Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Dogs and seniors

I’ve been reading again.

I recently saw an article on one of the Facebook Dog Groups I belong to titled “Dog ownership provides health benefits for senior citizens”. Rapidly reaching senior citizen status myself, and some say I’ve already reached it, I thought that it made perfect sense. 

The article says that research finds pet owners have a greater quantity of exercise than their non-pet owning peers plus a lower blood pressure. As far as the first part goes I can wholeheartedly concur that wind, gales, tornados, floods, snow etc. would not stop Sam & Sarah demanding to take me out for my walk – or is it the other way round? Whatever…the dogs and I get our exercise at least three times day. OK, the quantity has reduced over the years. Where they used to want to be out for 60 to 90 minutes at a time, now they turn round for the car after 30 to 45 minutes – which suits me as I’m getting senior-er with them. But at least I do get out. 

Regarding the reduced blood pressure, this has been scientifically shown to be due to an increase in oxytocin which is a hormone that reduces stress. We have a friend who has diabetes who comes round each weekend to sit with the dogs – Sarah on his left and Sam on his right. Since starting this routine his blood pressure has reduced remarkably. Ok…that is not a controlled experiment and only on one person, but it has worked for him so could well work on others. 

Recently we have had to move my mother into a care home local to us as she was suffering from frequent falls and other illnesses due to immobility. Apart from us knowing she is now round the corner it means we can take the dogs to regularly see their Grandma. One of things on our checklist when Chris and I were looking for homes was whether they accept visits by dogs as my mum always lights up when she sees Sam and Sarah. Luckily this one does. 

So when I read that other research has shown that owning a pet can slow down some forms of dementia I was even more interested. It is said that looking after a pet with all the duties like walking, feeding, and general well-being can keep the mind motivated on something rather than simply drifting off as my mum used to do. 

Now, every weekend, when Chris is not working, we take the dogs into the Day Room to visit their Grandma Peg. They get so excited seeing all their new ‘friends’ who totally adore them. On the first occasion we took them along, Sam and Sarah went from resident to resident licking any hands that were put out to pet them. I know our dogs are rather special but I’m afraid it was not purely out of their goodness of their hearts but the fact that we usually visit during tea time when all the residents have eaten biscuits and licking hands or snuffling around feet means they get crumbs. One lovely man used to save his Rich Tea and Custard Cream biscuits especially for the dogs. Guess what, he was the first person they visit after their Grandma. Our dogs are great at pretending they have never ever ever been fed by their Dads. 

When I visit without the dogs I get looks of disappointment that it is just me who is visiting and not the dogs too. 

The extra bonus with taking Sam and Sarah along is that the residents chat to each and giggle over their behaviour so they stimulate interaction. Sarah, being the Diva she is, simply lies in the middle of the room with a "Go on...you can adore me" look on her face. My Mum is now welcome at everyone’s dinner table since she is the Dog Grandma. 

Most of the residents find it hard to see so, at first, couldn’t distinguish between our twins. But then one lady said “Oh look, one of the dogs has a tail that constantly goes round and round like a helicopter while the other one wags their tail from side to side”. They have found their own way of learning to tell who is who by their tail action which must help with memory. 

So does having a dog help with seniority? It certainly seems like it does to me. Now, if only I could remember where I put my keys and why have I just come upstairs……..? 

Sam looking adoringly at Grandma Peg, Sarah simply making sure the camera has her best angle