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Pets Give Nursing Home Residents Therapeutic Benefit


According to research and nursing home advocacy efforts by a University of Iowa Law Professor, a dog may be more than just a man’s best friend. The Professor is working in conjunction with the National Health Law and Policy Resource Center, to encourage the presence of pets in nursing homes as a therapeutic device.

Past studies have demonstrated numerous positive effects that pets can have on both the elderly and the ill. Researchers have monitored patients in the presence of animals, concluding that pets provide their owners with both emotional and physical benefits. Emotionally, pets can help senior citizens to feel less isolated. Abused children who are usually reluctant to interact with others appear to interact positively with animals mimic this emotional impact. For the children, animals can teach them that even in difficult situations they can survive if they work hard.

The emotional and social reaction is particularly obvious in nursing home settings when visitors bring pets. If a visitor comes in alone, many residents shy away from interaction. But if the visitor comes along with a pet, many residents will freely engage socially in order to interact with the pet. The law Professor, leading the charge on pets in nursing homes, wants homes to loosen up policies about pet visitors, and possibly even pet tenants.

She believes that if residents have a pet around 24/7 they will reap even bigger benefits from the continuous interaction. As support for this theory, she mentions the fact that many residents have a long time pet before they enter the home. When moving in, the residents are then forced to give the pet up for adoption. The resulting separation can be painful.

A live-in pet at a nursing home would provide residents with yet another element of hominess, which is often absent from the sterile care facility environments. Individuals and groups who are not in favor of pet integration, argue that pets may provide a health or safety risk to the residents of the home. For example, a pet could easily trip someone or irritate allergies of sensitive residents. Of course there are also concerns about an animal becoming aggressive and biting a resident, or damaging property if the animal has an accident.

Despite the possible downsides, the Professor believes that these risks are nominal in comparison to the potential benefits. Nursing homes could institute precautionary measures to circumvent these problems. Additionally, they could simply take on pets that pose less of a risk. Some homes apparently already have turtle farms, birds, or even miniature horses in their facilities.

Physical benefits of having pets in the home could also prove significant. Studies have shown that people in the presence of a pet have lower heart rates than those sitting alone. Some pets can also be trained to assist people in case of an emergency medical condition. For example, a dog can be trained to press a button to alert 911 if a person has a heart attack.

In addition to lowering heart rates, pets can also promote a reduction in depression and anxiety. Furthermore, a pet such as a dog may encourage residents to get out and walk around, thus improving their cardiovascular health. Overall, the benefits appear to be a positive move towards improved nursing home environments.

Our team of experienced nursing homes abuse and neglect attorneys is happy to hear of any positive improvements in the nursing home atmosphere. Although a pet is not the sort of thing that could fix abuse and neglect rates, it will still improve the quality of living for many residents. In light of ongoing declines in nursing home quality of life, we are enthused to see any positive movement towards better care.

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