Sunday, May 10, 2020

Pets and aged care

Hero and I have been getting a lot of mileage out of this cardboard box, which - surprisingly - is still standing.

Last year my friend and colleague Dr Stephanie Ward took part in an amazing television program called Old People’s Home for 4-Year-Olds. If you have not seen it, this is quite an amazing series based on a simple question: does putting older people together with younger people benefit one or both groups, and how?

You can watch the five-part series here.

One statistic I cannot forget, delivered in the first episode by the inspirational Professor Sue Kurrle (watch one of her fabulously engaging talks here), is that 40 per cent of people in aged care don’t get visitors. FORTY PER CENT.

This is a figure that I continue to reflect on in the light of Covid-19, which has seen severe restrictions that have unintentionally but disproportionately impacted vulnerable people and their carers. It is especially painful on days like today, Mother’s Day, when a lot of families would have planned to visit their elderly relatives.

Companionship is critical. Humans need it. Companion animals need it, and we can mutually benefit. Yet many older people have to give up their companion animals when they enter care, and both animals and humans suffer when they are parted. Pets and Positive Aging is one organisation that advocates for the recognition of the bond between people and our pets as we age, and they’ve recently updated their website.  

They’ve developed a Pet Plan that should be completed in case of emergency by those living with companion animals. 

Of course there are many people out there – family members, friends, neighbours – supporting people to care for their animals, whether it’s a helpful lift to the vet, a daily dog walk, minding or feeding an animal while an owner is in hospital, or someone happy to pick up some more supplies when they’re on a run to the shops. Every single act of kindness like that makes a difference.