Pet therapy in residential aged care, retirement living, home and community care, and rehabilitation centres and hospices is growing in popularity.
Aged care provider Feros Care already knows the great advantages of having pets in its residential villages. Feros Care encourages pets at its three aged care facilities in Byron Bay, Bangalow and Wommin Bay and can also support clients still in their own home with pet care.
Feros Care has already introduced cats, dogs, fish, ducks, guinea pigs, rabbits, quails, budgies and even stick insects of all sizes, colour and personality to all villages.The animal friendly organisation has a waiting list of potential residents who would like to bring their pets with them.
Feros Care CEO Jennene Buckley says that the benefits of including pets at an aged care facility far outweigh any extra demands created by having a few furry, feathered or scaled friends around.
“Some aged care providers are concerned about what might go wrong having pets. They could be worried about infection control issues, or the potential for residents to trip over an animal. But pets play a vital role in residential care. They bring normality to the day and are a great de-stressor for residents and staff,” she said.
Ms Buckley said pets used as therapy can, among other things, help reduce blood pressure, increase physical activity and help seniors learn. Pets also offer companionship and affection and can combat loneliness, which is a condition that can endanger the health of many seniors.
Research has shown a few minutes of stroking a pet can decrease levels of stress hormones and help alleviate stress related disorders. Simply playing with pets can be beneficial, boosting neurotransmitters which help humans feel loved, calm and relaxed. Staying active and playful with a pet can keep seniors feeling energised.
Some other benefits include:
- fewer visits to the doctor
- less depression
- increased social opportunities
- seniors naturally become more active
- pets offer affection and unconditional love
- pets ease loss of a loved one
- seniors take better care of themselves
- sense of security
- help ease the transition into an aged care facility
At Feros Care, pets form part of the ‘plan of care’ for many residents. Pets play as important a role in traditional aspects of daily life as personal care, physiotherapy and medications.
Ms Buckley said pets may also be an ‘ice breaker’ for new admissions. She said aged care facilities considering extending their policy to include pets, might seriously think about the advantages to residents first, before dismissing the idea.
“Don’t ponder over the decision too long, someone will probably manage to convince you it’s too hard or not the right thing to do,” she said.
“Start with thinking about the benefits to residents. It’s hard for anyone to deny a resident something that will bring them joy, happiness and companionship and love at a time in their life when they have had to often surrender so many of the things that are important to them.”
When introducing pets to an aged care facility Ms Buckley suggested either adopting a cat first or trialing the idea with pet visits
“Cats are quite self- sufficient and don’t need to be taken for walks,” she said adding that pet visits to facilities don’t achieve the same benefits as live in pet therapy but it is a great way of trialing the concept while residents get used to the idea.
“The scheduled visits don’t allow the same level of spontaneity as pets living at the village,” she said.
“But visiting pets do still play a role – even when there are resident pets. We recently had a great mobile farm visit the facility.”