If the Michigan senior you love is feeling lonely and blue after the long winter, a pet may be a happy solution! Pets can be great therapists. They are proven to help with everything from decreasing blood pressure to lowering rates of depression among our elders.
Health care organizations from hospitals to hospice programs incorporate pet therapy in to their daily routines.
But there are many factors to consider when choosing pets for seniors. From community restrictions on pets to budget issues and mobility challenges, there are a few issues to consider.
How to Find the Right Pet for an Older Adult in Michigan
- Budget: The financial impact of owning a pet is one consideration. While Great Danes or another large breed of dog may be your senior loved one’s favorite, they can be more expensive to feed. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the fluffy little dogs many people find so appealing. A challenge with owning one of these dogs, however, is they tend to need frequent grooming. Depending upon what part of Michigan your senior loved one resides in, the costs for grooming can quickly add up. Before you make a decision on a pet, be sure to factor in all of the expenses your loved one will incur with each of the companions you are considering.
- Mobility: Our snowy, icy Michigan winters can make it hard for older adults to get outdoors to walk a pet each day. While dogs are known to help seniors improve their physical fitness, they can also put them at risk for a fall during the winter months. If your senior loved one doesn’t have a fenced yard or easy outdoor access, a dog may not be the best choice. By contrast, a cat doesn’t need (or often want!) to go outside when the weather is frightful.
- Community restrictions: Another factor to keep in mind is where your senior loved one lives. If they reside in a senior living community in Michigan, is it pet-friendly? Or if they call a condominium complex home, are there homeowner’s restrictions regarding pets?
- Easy maintenance: Is your aging family member able to care for a pet that might be higher maintenance? For example, a puppy might be a little too high energy for some seniors. An older dog might be calmer and easier to handle. A small bird or fish might be other options. Both are known to help decrease stress and agitation, especially for adults with Alzheimer’s.
Resources for Finding a Pet for a Senior
Finally, we thought it would be helpful to share a few good resources you can use when it comes time to choosing a furry or feathered friend for your Michigan senior loved one:
- Petfinder is an organization that maintains a nationwide database of pets waiting to be adopted
- The Michigan Humane Society can help connect you with pets big and small that are looking for a home
Caring for a senior loved one with Alzheimer’s is difficult and sometimes frustrating. As the disease progresses, it robs your senior loved one of the ability to understand and communicate. It also brings personality changes and behavioral changes that can challenge even the most patient of caregivers.
How family caregivers and personal companions respond and react in these situations can make a difference.
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that caregivers practice “compassionate communication” and respond calmly. This can not only minimize conflict, but reduce aggressive behaviors.
Minimizing Stress in a Senior with Alzheimer’s Disease
Here are some dos and don’ts that can reduce stress for your loved one with Alzheimer’s and for you.
DO change the way you communicate.
- DO use short, clear sentences. Repeat yourself using a calm voice when necessary.
- DON’T provide explanations or tell lengthy stories.
- DON’T ask questions like “Do you remember when…? Or ask if your loved one remembers what happened in recent memory. This can be humiliating for a person living with Alzheimer’s who likely can’t remember.
- DO carefully rephrase your questions so that they can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
- DON’T remind your senior loved one that their memory is failing. Statements like “I just told you that this morning,” or “I cannot believe you don’t remember that,” can upset and agitate a person with Alzheimer’s.
DO adjust your attitude.
- DO practice kindness and patience. It is easy to become irritated and frustrated when you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
When working with your loved one becomes difficult, take a deep breath and remind yourself that they cannot control their disease. Alzheimer’s causes the deterioration of brain cells. Your loved one is not behaving as they are because they want to aggravate you. As the Alzheimer’s Association puts it, “Once dementia is diagnosed, the patient is excused 100% of the time.”
- DO be cheerful and reassuring. This can keep your Alzheimer’s loved one calm and help them to feel safe.
- DO “go with the flow.” The Family Caregiver Alliance explains that caregivers shouldn’t be concerned about correcting their senior loved one’s misunderstandings. For instance, rather than letting them know that a loved one they want to go see has been dead for years, experts recommend caregivers “let it go” and play along to avoid conflict and stress.
DO change your response.
- DON’T argue or confront. Taking an aggressive stance can trigger an aggressive defense in a person living with Alzheimer’s. When your senior loved one does or says something troubling, it is best to distract them from their thought or behavior. For instance, if your father with Alzheimer’s insists that he needs to get to work, distracting him with a snack and a walk will calm him. Explaining that he retired ten years earlier will only further agitate him.
- DO focus on reducing stress and making your senior loved one feel safe. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people living with dementia are very often fearful. When reacting to their behavior, consider all your options and act with their comfort and security in mind.
For more information about caring for your senior loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s Caregiver Center.
We know firsthand how tough it is to talk with kids about a grandparent’s Alzheimer’s. People of all ages have difficulty understanding this debilitating disease.
Making time to explain what is happening to children is important. A grandparent or other senior family member may seem fine then suddenly become confused and a little paranoid. The unpredictability of the disease can be frightening for children.
What are some tips Michigan family caregivers can use to explain Alzheimer’s disease to children?
Talking with Children about a Michigan Senior’s Alzheimer’s Disease
Here are a few suggestions that may help the conversation go more smoothly.
1. Sit Down together as a family: Find a time for everyone in the family to sit down together when you won’t be interrupted. Explain the disease in its simplest terms. Be sure to educate your children on behaviors their grandparent is currently exhibiting. Don’t make the mistake of getting too far ahead in the disease process yet. You can tackle more advanced signs of the disease once the kids have an opportunity to digest the basics of Alzheimer’s disease.
One reminder is to make it clear to your children that Alzheimer’s is a disease and the disease is responsible for the changes in their grandparent (or senior loved one). Also be sure the kids understand that Alzheimer’s isn’t contagious like the flu or a cold. The idea that a parent or sibling might “catch it” might be frightening to them.
2. Talk about Communication: Another factor to talk about with your kids is how to communicate. For example, explain to them that they should approach their grandparent from the front. This is because Alzheimer’s often causes damage to a person’s peripheral vision. If an older adult living with Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t see you coming, they may be startled and strike out in fear. Also share with your kids how important it is to use a calm voice and to avoid making loud noises around the family member who has Alzheimer’s.
3. Video Series: A video library created by the Alzheimer’s Association, Kids Look at Alzheimer’s Disease, can be a great resource. This video project features children and teenagers talking about how a loved one’s Alzheimer’s disease has impacted their own life. One series was created for video series is for teens and the other for younger children.
4. Encourage Honesty: During your conversation with your children, encourage them to be open and honest about their feelings. For example, their feelings may be hurt because their grandfather was short-tempered with them or they are embarrassed by an unusual behavior of their grandmother’s. They might even being feeling frightened. Remind your kids not to feel guilty and encourage them to share whatever it is they are feeling with you so you can talk through it together.
5. Fun Times Remain: Finally, help your child understand that there are still activities and projects they can do with a grandparent despite the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Create a list of activities the two generations can safely enjoy together to share when you talk with your family. 101 Activities from the Alzheimer’s Association is a great resource to use when you are creating your list.
Memory Care in Michigan
When the time comes and you need to find a Memory Care program in Michigan, please remember Heritage Senior Communities. The Terrace is our personalized dementia care program. Call the senior living community nearest to you, to arrange a personal tour.
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