People who have pets typically consider them an integral part of the family. Some even have emotional support animals (ESAs), which are specially trained as mental health companions. Though they are typically dogs or cats, in a humorous New Yorker article, an undercover journalist attempts to bring pretend ESAs (including a pig, a snake, and an alpaca) into exclusive restaurants and shops.
Yet whether or not a pet is designated an ESA, pets provide their human companions with unconditional love and support. This can and does make a huge difference in the lives of seniors who may be lonely, depressed, or dealing with memory loss or other health issues.
Here at The Kensington, residents are not only allowed to have pets; pets are encouraged to become part of The Kensington family. We recognize their importance as contributors to the psychological and physical well being of our senior family.
Making A Smoother Move
Relocating can be stressful, especially if a senior is leaving a longtime home and neighborhood. Moving into a senior living community with their beloved pet can help a new resident feel right at home in their new assisted living home.
Assisted Living communities nationwide recognize that pet therapy enables seniors to live longer, healthier, happier lives. Over the last decade, the number of assisted living communities that welcome pets has expanded along with the aging population.
More than half of all U.S. assisted living facilities now allow residents to bring their own pet to their new home, and more than a third provide a “house pet” for seniors to share, according to the CDC National Survey of Residential Care Facilities.
At The Kensington Redondo Beach, Forest, whose official title is “Kensington’s Best Friend,” will be on hand to snuggle, warm laps, and keep residents smiling. While he lives full-time with our Executive Director, Brandy Valencia, he’ll be on-site, tail wagging, most days of the week.
How Fido and Fluffy (and Forest) Help Senior Health
The health benefits of pet interaction, whether with a family dog or one that’s loved by the assisted living community as a whole, can enhance a senior’s life in myriad ways. Walking a dog is excellent cardiovascular exercise. Brushing, feeding, and playing with a cat or a dog help those with mild to moderate memory impairment remain engaged — and feel needed. Someone else’s pet can support other residents in the same way.
There is even a creative pairing happening at many senior living locations nationwide. Known as the “senior to senior fostering program,” it matches senior dogs with senior residences, providing forever homes for older dogs with older adults who appreciate the companionship and help the animals to feel needed in the assisted living home.
In fact, this situation took place at our sister community, The Kensington Sierra Madre, which was featured on CBS’s Lucky Dog. A dog rescue/training/rehoming specialist matched The Kensington Sierra Madre with an adorable one-year-old Shih Tzu named Kenny (now Kensey!), who is a bundle of love for our seniors. Both Kensey and the residents are thriving since he joined his new home, proving such pairings can indeed be a win-win.
Numerous studies show that having a pet helps:
- Decrease stress
- Lower blood pressure
- Ease pain
- Lower cholesterol
- Enhance social interaction
- Improve disposition and mood
- Improve immunity
- Soothe sundowning (for people with cognitive impairment)
- Increase motivation
The Perfect Pet: No Feeding, No Walking, No Cleanup
Of course, pets do require a lot of care: walking, feeding, grooming, potty training and cleanup. In some instances, a pet may require medication. Managing a pet’s needs could be challenging for some seniors, either because of mobility issues or memory loss.
Fortunately, there are many services that can support senior pet ownership, including walking services, on-call veterinarians, and mobile grooming vans. The Kensington also has team members who can help coordinate these needs when the pet’s human companions are not able to manage this responsibility.
But what about a pet that doesn’t need any care — but provides it?
Joy For All Companion Pets has created animatronic pets that deliver tactile and auditory stimulation to seniors with dementia. Designed with extensive input from older adults, Joy For All dispenses with leash and litter box; these pets simply dispense love. They’re amazingly lifelike, especially the cat, which purrs and meows just like an actual feline — but won’t jump off a senior’s lap (and doesn’t shed, either).
The dog turns its head and makes realistic dog sounds.
Our sister community on the East coast, The Kensington White Plains, utilizes robopets. Seniors say they feel comforted and happy having the pets around. The animatronic animals provide a calming influence and happiness, often evoking memories of beloved living pets from the past.
How Cute Is That Doggie In the Tablet!
Taking a step back from animatronic pets, Care Coach is a virtual pet companion: a remote caregiving service that provides seniors who have mild dementia with an adorable animal avatar that will engage with the senior on demand, via tablet or laptop.
The caregivers providing companionship and oversight via Care Coach are highly trained, compassionate, and available to monitor an older loved one 24/7. Unlike actual pets, they speak in human language, and can alert an assisted living staff member in the event of a change in behavior or a fall.
The Care Coach “pet” can also remind the senior to drink water, play games with them via the tablet, and engage in conversation that calms agitation and stimulates memory. When used in assisted living communities, Care Coach has helped soothe those with advanced dementia and diminish unmanageable behavior.
So whatever level of pet companion is appropriate for your loved one, we encourage you to bring the nurturing, healing benefits of pet therapy with your senior family member when they come home to The Kensington with their beloved pet!