Seniors are being forced to leave their pets behind when they move into aged care.
A study by the Animal Welfare League of Australia found that while 63 per cent of Australian households have a pet, only 18 per cent of residential aged care facilities allow residents to live with a pet.
And while you might think that being cared for in your own home means you will be able to keep your pet by your side, only 9 per cent of home care services offer pet friendly care.
Moving into aged care can be a distressing time. Many going into aged care feel sad to be leaving their homes and friends and families, and these feelings can be magnified if they also have to leave behind a much-loved pet.
Seasons Aged Care Chief Executive, Nick Loudon, says, “Part of the reason that we encourage pet ownership within Seasons communities is that when a resident is strongly bonded to their pet and the care of that pet is well-supported, there are huge benefits for that resident which creates a ripple effect across to other residents and staff.”
Despite a general reluctance by many aged care providers to accommodate pets, there is widespread acceptance that owning a pet is good for the elderly, both physically and mentally.
One of the biggest problems among seniors is social isolation, and pets can be a great way to combat loneliness.
Tracey Silvester, Executive Manager of Envigor Home Care, told 9 News Perth, “For a lot of elderly people, if they have a pet, that pet it their only social interaction.
Ms Silvester said the impact of loneliness on the mental and physical health of older people is akin to the effects of long-term smoking and obesity – when pets provide companionship, their senior’s mental and physical health improves.
“People who own a pet attend their GPS 15 per cent less often,” Ms Silvester said.
“So it’s really important that people who own a pet are allowed to keep their pet, particularly as they move into alternative accommodation,” she said.
The benefits of allowing pets to live in nursing homes are well established:
Seasons resident, Faye, was allowed to bring her dog, Jackie, with her when she moved into the community.
“I didn’t want to leave my own home. But now I call Seasons home because I could bring Jackie,” she said.
Of course, it’s not always going to be possible for elderly people to keep their pet with them when they moved into aged care. They may have become too frail to care for it any longer, or they may not have the financial means to look after it. Some pets – for example large dogs – might not be appropriate for nursing homes.
However, it’s well established that pets are good for seniors, for several reasons, and also have benefits for other residents and nursing home staff.
Perhaps it’s time for more aged care facilities to look for ways to make it possible for residents to bring their pets with them, so animal companions can continue to support and accompany their owners through the next phase of their life.