As a professional in the field of aging, Sara had seen it all—until her own mother broke her hip at the age of 88 and became profoundly confused, unable to live in her own home. Join Sara on her journey through the strangeness that is dementia while trying to make sense of it all and finding humor in the details. [Editor's note: Sara no longer contributes to Silver Planet, but we have made her archived blog entries available as a service to our readers.]
Many of us have become quite attached to our pets. I have two cats myself. I’m not sure I could warm up to a ferret or iguana, but each to his or her own.
My dear friend Shirley, one of my mother’s best friends, recent put down her beloved cat Nikki. He was her constant companion for many years and played an important role in Shirley’s life. Nikki was elderly for a cat and contracted illnesses that made his and his owner’s life extremely difficult. Eventually, Shirley did the courageous thing. Nikki is now in pet heaven.
Pets are remarkable in their ability to elicit joy and comfort. I don’t think we need studies to confirm what we intuitively know, but quite a few studies affirm the value contact with pets bring to the lives of old people. One 2002 Journal of Gerontology study found that even 30 minutes per week reduced loneliness for people living in a nursing home, may show how truly lonely many people in nursing homes are.
At Gaffney House, my mother’s assisted living facility, the son of one of the residents talked to Administrator Jennifer about the role dogs had played in the life of her father. For years, her dad had pet dogs and they always slept at the foot of her dad’s bed. Because of dementia, her dad had to move into Gaffney House, and he deeply missed having a dog nearby, especially at night. Being the responsive administrator that she is, Jennifer went right down to the local animal shelter and found Coco.
Coco, a beautiful chocolate brown Labrador, is now a resident of Gaffney House. He is absolutely charming. Big and friendly, he seems to smile a lot. He looks purebred.
Amazingly, a few residents have not warmed to Coco, but everyone else loves the dog. He brings such positive energy into the house, and he seems so happy! He goes from person to person, receiving a loving touch from all he approaches (he seems to know whom to avoid). My mother, a long-time dog lover, really enjoys having Coco around.
As you might guess, while he greets everyone who enters Gaffney House throughout the day, every night he sleeps at the foot of one resident’s bed. No training needed, he just seemed to know who needed him most.
By Sara Myers
A Good Enough Daughter Blog