Pets are the heart of many families. Their unconditional love and companionship boosts the spirit while helping people live more purposeful days. For older adults, a pet can fill a void left behind when adult children are grown and gone or following the death of a spouse.
Having a furry friend to talk to throughout the day and to snuggle up on the couch with in the evening can combat loneliness. For adults with Alzheimer’s, the benefits are substantial. Pets help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety that are unfortunately common in those with most forms of dementia.
Pets and Seniors: A Happy, Healthy Partnership
A study conducted at the University of Missouri revealed that seniors who own dogs enjoy a better quality of life. The stronger the bond between the older adult and their four-legged friend, the greater the benefits. Researchers say this is because people who feel a strong emotional attachment to their pet are more inclined to take good care of them. That provides a sense of purpose, which is sometimes difficult to find, especially for those with memory impairment.
Seniors with pets also tend to be more active, including people who have dementia. Those who have dogs and cats are more likely to get up and move. That helps with weight management, stamina, and core strength. It’s a combination that might aid in fall prevention, a risk for people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
Research shows the very act of petting an animal can lower blood pressure. The repetitive nature of stroking an animal’s fur can be very soothing. If you are helping a loved one find a pet as a companion, here are a few things to consider.
Adopting a Pet Later in Life
- Budget: The first thing to think about before adopting a pet is the senior’s financial situation. Some breeds of cats and dogs are known for having health conditions that cause higher vet bills. Grooming expenses for long-haired dogs or cats can also leave a dent in the budget.
- Space: Also think about the space a pet might require. For example, a small dog can make a few laps around the living room on a snowy day to work off excess energy. By contrast, a large dog will still need to go for a walk outside no matter the weather. Also take into account whether the long-range plan for a loved one with dementia might include moving to a memory care community. You’ll want to learn more about the potential communities’ size restrictions for pets.
- Fall risk: As Alzheimer’s progresses, an older adult’s peripheral vision might be damaged. That means being mindful of the fall hazard a cat or dog might create. A medium-sized dog might be better than a small one that can get underfoot or a large one that might knock the person off their feet.
- Time: Finally, think about the time commitment. While your loved one might be able to assist in caring for the pet now, the chores may one day fall on you. You will also likely be more involved in caring for your family member when that time comes. Consider who may be able to pitch in.
One last idea is to find out if any local organizations, such as 4 Paws for Ability, train service dogs to support adults with Alzheimer’s. They teach dogs how to assist with everyday tasks and to redirect potentially unsafe behaviors.
Dementia Care at Heritage
Heritage Senior Communities offers specialized dementia care at a variety of locations throughout Michigan. We invite you to call the community nearest you to learn more or schedule a visit. One of our experienced team members can answer questions and take you on a private tour!
My mom is in the early stages of dementia. One struggle I’m having is keeping her hydrated. As we head into summer, I’m worried she’ll end up sick. Some days she’ll drink water easily, but other times her glass will sit untouched all day. I just can’t figure it out.
Do you have any suggestions?
Chris in Traverse City, MI
Preventing Dehydration in a Senior with Dementia
You aren’t alone in this struggle! It’s fairly common in people with all types of dementia. You are correct to want to address it. As little as a two percent loss in body fluid can lead to mild dehydration. That can cause headaches, constipation, sluggishness, and fatigue.
Experts say there are a variety of reasons people with dementia don’t drink enough water:
- Forgetfulness: This classic symptom of dementia puts seniors at increased risk for dehydration. An older adult with memory loss may simply forget to drink water.
- Fear of water: Some adults with Alzheimer’s develop a fear of water. If that’s the type of dementia your mom has, it might be part of the issue. You might also notice her getting anxious and agitated with other water-related tasks, especially bathing and showering. Just the sound of water running can cause fear for some.
- Difficulty swallowing: The physical damage dementia causes to the brain can lead to problems swallowing, a condition known as dysphagia. An older person might avoid drinking because they are afraid of choking.
- Impaired abstract thought: As Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia progress, the person living with it may lose the ability to problem solve. While they might feel thirsty—though some also lose the ability to recognize thirst—they might not know what to do about it.
If any of these may be concerns for your mother, you can work on ways to help her stay hydrated.
Tips to Help a Senior with Dementia Stay Hydrated
Here are suggestions that might be helpful:
- Frequent prompts: If memory loss is the culprit, make sure to prompt your mom to drink frequently throughout the day. It often helps to keep a bottle of water with you and drink often to encourage her to model the behavior.
- Dark drinking glass: Some have found that using dark drinking glasses and bottles works for their loved one. Fill a few when the senior isn’t in the room to hear the water running and store them in the refrigerator.
- Foods that hydrate: Many fruits and vegetables have a high water content. It’s a great way to increase daily hydration. If you don’t already, incorporate leafy greens, celery, berries, melon, cucumber, tomatoes, and apples into her daily diet. Clear soup and bone broth are other good choices.
- Water enhancers: Use fruits and vegetables to make water look and taste more appealing. Lemon slices, cucumber, mint sprigs, strawberries, and blueberries are all good choices.
- Medication review: Schedule time to review your mom’s medications with her pharmacist. If she takes any that increase the risk for dehydration, talk with her primary care physician. They may be able to swap it.
Thanks for contacting me for suggestions! I hope that you find this information beneficial.
Learn More about Dementia Care at Heritage
It takes special training and thoughtful attention to detail to allow adults with all types of dementia to enjoy their best quality of life. Read more about the Heritage approach and where to find a community near you by visiting the Specialized Dementia Care page on our website.
The number of people living with a chronic health condition is on the rise in this country. While much of it can be attributed to baby boomers growing older, it’s more widespread than that. Experts believe poor nutrition and a lack of exercise in younger people is causing rates of chronic illnesses, like heart disease and diabetes, to climb.
Medical professionals are also becoming more adept at identifying autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis. Each of these is also considered a chronic illness. It all adds up to a startling number of people left trying to navigate daily life with a protracted disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six in ten adults in this country live with a chronic health condition. Four in ten of them have two or more.
So, what does it take for a medical issue to be considered chronic and what are the common symptoms? We’ll explore both along with how to manage the stress that frequently results from trying to juggle daily life with a serious, ongoing health issue.
What Is Considered a Chronic Health Condition?
A medical problem is considered chronic if it lasts more than one year and causes functional or lifestyle restrictions or requires ongoing monitoring or treatment. As a category, they are among the most prevalent and costly health conditions in the United States. They are also the leading cause of death and disability.
Symptoms commonly associated with a long-term illness include:
It’s important to know that the last one, stress, can exacerbate the others. While anxiety and nervousness are recognizable signs of stress, people aren’t aware of other symptoms linked to it. Those can include irritability, stomachaches, sleep problems, and a loss of interest in friends and favorite hobbies.
By learning how to manage stress within the context of a chronic disease, people might be able to reduce their symptoms and suffering.
Overcoming Stress Associated with Chronic Disease
The type of illness a person is living with can inhibit their ability to try some of the following suggestions. However, most people will find a few to be useful:
- Join an in-person or online support group: Connecting with peers who can understand and sympathize is one of the best ways to manage stress. If you are able, meeting others in person offers the added benefits of socializing and getting out of the house. For those whose illness prevents that, there are a variety of virtual options. You might want to first explore those offered by organizations dedicated to your specific illness. If that’s not possible, you might find the Center for Chronic Illness support groups to be a good resource.
- Avoid alcohol and other unhealthy behaviors: When you are in pain or feeling down, it’s easy to develop unhealthy behaviors that seem like they help. It might be a few glasses of wine a day or overindulging in sugary treats. Sometimes it’s starting to smoke or increasing the amount of cigarettes you smoke in a day. While these might offer temporary relief, in the long run it will only make things worse. Be mindful of any habits you’ve picked up that might work against you.
- Try to eat as healthily as possible: This suggestion usually helps you gain more energy and even sleep better. Instead of considering healthy eating a diet, think of it as a lifestyle modification. A Mediterranean meal plan, for example, is linked to lower rates of disease. It focuses on fruits, vegetables, and lean sources of protein. If your health condition makes it tough to prepare these types of meals and snacks for yourself, consider subscribing to a home delivery service that offers these kinds of prepared meals. Purple Carrot and Green Chef are two popular examples.
- Learn to practice meditation: Though people often associate meditation with sitting on the floor with your legs crossed, the reality is much more accommodating. You can even practice it from your favorite spot on the sofa. An added benefit is that growing evidence shows meditation might help protect cognitive health. Watch “Mindfulness Meditation for People with Disabilities” to learn more.
- Find physical exercises you can engage in: Depending upon what your chronic health condition allows, mild to moderate forms of exercise might also reduce your feelings of stress and anxiety. Whether it is a simple walk, a swim, chair yoga, or seated aerobics, talk to your physician for input and advice.
Art and Music Activities at Heritage Senior Communities
Our final suggestion is a popular part of daily life in our communities. Explore different types of art projects and music. Research shows that both offer therapeutic benefits including reducing stress and boosting mood. Click on the Events tab in the link for the community nearest you to view a copy of the monthly activities calendar!
I watched a segment on the news about June being Men’s Health Month. It made me realize that my dad hasn’t been to the doctor since my mom passed away almost two years ago. She was the one who always kept him on track. He’s always been terrible about scheduling physicals and preventive screenings.
I want to discuss it with him this weekend, but I’m anxious about it. Do you have any suggestions I can use to convince my dad it’s important to see the doctor even if he’s not feeling sick? I could use a little advice!
Kim in Midland, MI
Why It’s Important to See the Doctor on a Regular Basis
I wish I could tell you how often we hear this concern from women about the men in their lives! Cleveland Clinic actually surveyed men on this topic and found they would do just about anything not to see the doctor. In fact, only about half of the men they spoke with have an annual physical regularly.
The survey found that some men were conditioned from a young age not to discuss or complain about their health. Other reasons men cited for not seeing the doctor included not wanting to know if they had a medical issue, an unwillingness to change their lifestyle, and embarrassment. This information might give you some insight as to why your dad won’t see his doctor as often as he should. That may be helpful in overcoming his reluctance.
Another factor to consider is whether he’s comfortable with his current doctor. Maybe he is seeing a female physician and would prefer a male. A lack of experience with older adults is another reason a doctor may not connect with a senior. While a physician doesn’t necessarily need to be a geriatrician, finding someone who is knowledgeable and a good listener is vital. If the two of you decide it’s time for your dad to make a change, “4 Tips for Helping a Senior Find a Primary Care Doctor” has some good tips.
One last suggestion is to start with a virtual or telehealth appointment. Most physician offices started offering these during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it’s to meet and greet with a new doctor or check in with his current one, it’s worth calling to see if this is an option for a reluctant patient.
I hope this helps you! Best of luck speaking with your dad.
Summer Is a Great Time to Explore Senior Living
With communities across Michigan and one in Indiana, Heritage Senior Communities has a rich tradition of caring for older adults. If you are an adult child helping care for an aging parent, planning now for future care needs is important. We extend an open invitation to you to visit one of our communities to learn more. Call the location nearest you to set up a time today!