Life-saving pets: Cats that comfort the elderly
Pets and People: Page 6
Thanks to reports of cats' (and dogs') ability to comfort ill and lonely elders, more and more nursing homes and assisted living facilities are allowing cats or other pets, according to reports in industry newsletters.
Another reason for pets in nursing homes: Cats may be able to alert staff when a patient is terminally ill. The understanding of cats' sixth sense about impending death started with the story of one cat, Oscar, whose uncanny abilities earned him his own paper in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007. By the time David Dosa, MD, documented Oscar's prediction instincts, he was known to have accurately predicted more than 50 deaths. Adopted as a kitten by a nursing home to be a service companion for those with advanced dementia, Oscar was only about six months old when the staff started finding him curled up next to particular patients who then died within a few hours or days. Scientists concluded that cats like Oscar are likely responding to a pheromone that the human sense of smell can't detect.
Takeaway tip: Being permitted to bring a favorite pet can make all the difference in a senior's ability to adjust to assisted living. And those with Alzheimer's can benefit even more from the therapy of connecting with a dog or cat. When choosing residential care, be sure to ask about pet-friendly policies, which are on the rise. (Of course, seniors living alone or aging in place also benefit from the companionship of a pet.) More assisted living communities and nursing homes are also adopting cats for all the residents to enjoy, so ask about group-owned pets as well.