May is National Pet Month and that means family caregivers can help their aging parents and other loved ones celebrate the joys of pet ownership. Pets have a special way of bonding with and loving their senior owners in a way that can bring joy, social interaction, and positive feels to multigenerational families.
A Special Bond
Pets are beloved by humans because we tend to forge special bonds with them. We assign them personalities, sometimes based on ways that they act and sometimes based on what we look for in a companion, and over time they become almost like members of the family. In many cases, pets provide an unquestioning sense of love that makes us feel wanted and important. There’s nothing quite like the comforting feeling you get from a cat purring contentedly at your feet or from a dog raising its head and flopping its tail back and forth when you enter a room.
Pets also can assist home caregivers who are taking care of elderly patients. When Mom is feeling agitated or stressed, she may find relief by putting Kitty on her lap and stroking her. The action of petting, the sound of the cat’s happy purr, and the warmth of her body in Mom’s arms all combine to reduce agitation. This can be especially beneficial if Mom is dealing with some unpleasant news or if she’s nervous about an upcoming doctor’s visit. Pets can also help those who have a difficult time “winding down” before bedtime.
If Dad has been a little too housebound lately, he might benefit from walking Rover and getting out in the fresh air. He can also get a little exercise in the process, and if you can encourage him to stay outside and throw a stick or a ball for Rover to fetch, he can get a little more.
Sometimes, even just the memory of a beloved pet can have an impact. Remembering the funny things that Grandma’s old parrot would say might get Grandma out of the funk she’s fallen into. Grandpa may be getting far down the path of dementia, but if he still has strong memories about that beagle and his floppy ears, reminiscing about him can bring comfort and happiness and provide a bonding experience between you and Grandpa.
Celebrate Your Pets
Take advantage of National Pet Month. Pay special attention to the pets in your life or in the life of the elderly individual you take care of. Spend time talking with your loved one about the pets that are currently in your lives and reminiscing about the special animals that have contributed so much in past years.
If your lifestyle does not accommodate a pet, consider inviting a friend and their furry companion for a short visit. Most pet owners are happy to share their pet’s personality and companionship with a fellow animal lover.