Senior Living Communities Make Room for Pets
By Carolyne Kennedy, Alta Vista, Scottsdale LIVING WELL Magazine
The benefits of pet ownership for seniors have been well documented over the years in scholarly research, but that’s no surprise to pet owners.
As early as the 1770s, dogs were used as therapeutic partners in treating mental illnesses, and the practice of using therapy animals became widely accepted during WWII, in the treatment of war wounded.
A 1994 report in the Harvard Health Letter said that companion animals have more consistent behavior when compared to human companions, and they offer unconditional affection, understanding and acceptance. The effects on pet owners are lower blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety level. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 1999 demonstrated that seniors living independently with pets tend to enjoy better physical health and mental wellbeing than those without pets. The study says they’re more active, cope better with stress, and have better overall health.
Nowadays, there are plenty of senior living options to choose from, and more and more communities are welcoming pets.
If you’ve suffered the loss of a spouse, a change in your health, or you’re simply tired of all the work that comes with home ownership, you may be contemplating a move to a senior living community. So, if you already have a four-legged companion, or if you’re thinking about getting a pet, be sure your moving plans include them.
Here in Arizona, a new pet-friendly community will open in Prescott this summer. The Alta Vista Retirement Community will take the “pets welcome” policy to a new level. The purpose-built 132-unit facility, combining independent and assisted living options, will feature apartments with 360-degree mountain views, private gated patios and a fenced dog park with seating, pick up and water stations where residents can exercise their pets in shady comfort. Pets on leashes will also be welcome in most common areas.
Alta Vista’s Executive Director, Maggie Greenwood says, “We know the bond between seniors and their pets contributes to their health and wellbeing. When considering a major life event like moving to a senior living community, people want to know their animal companions can still be part of their lives. Alta Vista was conceived and designed with those vital relationships in mind.”
Ann Herrington, publisher of Prescott Dog magazine, and a longtime animal advocate and owner of a therapy dog says, “We can’t ask people to give up their source of daily love and companionship, namely their pet, just because they move. The dog park concept at Alta Vista is the best solution. It combats boredom and loneliness and gets both the people and the dogs outside in the fresh air where they can socialize and enjoy life.
Long a part of nursing home and hospice practice, therapy pets, particularly dogs, are known to calm and comfort patients and their families, so the inclusion of pets at independent and assisted living communities makes sense.
Beyond the obvious joy, love and companionship a pet can provide, some animals can actually help us monitor our health and alert us to subtle changes that can lead to heart attacks, seizures and other medical crises.
Communities that welcome pets do so with caution, planning and thorough communication. According to an industry expert, seniors with pets should share a written action plan for their pet’s ongoing care with friends, family and/or community management, in the event someone else must step in and temporarily or permanently care for the animal. That’s especially important for people without families nearby.
If you’re thinking about getting a pet, here are some things to consider to ensure both you and the pet are enriched by the relationship:
- How old are you now? Small dogs and cats can live 12-15 years. Will you be able to care for the pet as you age?
- What is your current physical condition and prognosis? Consider the size and exercise needs of the pet.
- Do you live in a small house or apartment? Do you have a fenced back yard?
- Do you have allergies?
- Who will bathe and groom the pet?
- Is a young or mature pet best for you?
- Who will train the pet?
- Do you travel frequently? Who will care for the pet when you are not home?
- Who will shop for food and pet supplies? Who will take the pet to veterinary appointments?
Whether your plans call for aging in place or a move to an independent, assisted living or care community, a pet can bring joy to each day with unconditional love, companionship and assistance.
For more information, contact Maggie Greenwood at 928-772-6000 or visit Alta Vista’s website at www.avprc.com. The Prescott Dog magazine: http://www.prescottdog.com
Carolyne Kennedy is a freelance writer and media relations consultant