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Pet Doors Opening at Assisted Living Centers
Date:7/24/2008

The health benefits of an animal's companionship can be significant, experts say

THURSDAY, July 24 (HealthDay News) -- When the elderly woman first arrived at Brooke Grove Retirement Village in Sandy Spring, Md., some of the staffers were skeptical when they saw she had brought her cat along.

The woman, in the early stages of dementia, "floated in and out," according to Jackie Carson, the assisted living administrator at Brooke Grove, a center specializing in Alzheimer's care.

Staffers had to help the woman remember to feed the cat, and some were initially resentful, saying their job was to care for people, not animals, she added.

But slowly, the staff came around, when they saw all the benefits that the cat conferred on the residents, Carson, a registered nurse, said.

"The cat grounded her," she explained.

Brooke Grove is now among a growing number of assisted-living facilities that are actively encouraging seniors to bring along their well-behaved pets -- or inviting them to "adopt" resident pets.

The practise of encouraging seniors in such facilities to interact with pets has many benefits.

Just ask Loren Shook, CEO of Silverado Senior Living, the San Juan Capistrano, Calif.-based company that operates 17 assisted-living facilities in four states for residents with dementia.

"Pets are useful in reducing depression, anxiety and re-engaging people in life," Shook said. "We are committed to making it work."

Often, when a resident has seen many friends pass away, he or she considers their dog or cat a good friend and part of the family. "It is so important for a person's general happiness in life not to have to give up on one of their last friends," he said.

Pets offer proven health benefits. They can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduce feelings of loneliness, and increase opportunities for socializing, according to the
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