by Joan Smith-Reese
Getting Old – whether people or animals
Home Sweet Home is where they want to be.
Senior citizens and senior animals share more in common than most realize.
As a baby boomer and a home health and hospice care professional for over 30 years I have always been surprised at just how many seniors are “placed” in nursing homes or assisting living situations, not because of medical reasons, or despite medical reasons, but for the convenience of those who must care for them. Just as senior citizens are “placed” so are many senior animals. The shelters are full of graying, seasoned animals that maybe a little slower in pace, on a special diet, hard of hearing and need a little more attention. Owners surrender animals for the same reasons many seniors are in institutions. Because “they don’t want to watch them get old” or “they require more care than they want to be bothered with” or “they don’t want to watch them die.”
Both humans and animals are living longer with the advanced medical care available today. When asked the majority of senior citizens want to remain in their homes even through the dying process and so do the animals!
Seniors of both kinds are full of wisdom and grace and at the same time slower and more demanding. Physically they are not as spry, taking more medications and on special diets, sight and hearing are diminished, and sometimes dementia sets in, making life more difficult to understand. Routine is important and acknowledgement that they are still valuable members of the family is essential.
While my hopes are that this trend will decline with my boomer generation, the lack of education and resources continues to be an issue. We have to view old age not as having less life left to live, but view old age as a sabbatical, enjoying what aging has to offer. Often seniors become invisible at a time when they have something special to offer. Being “placed” exacerbates the feelings of loneliness, helplessness and boredom. Frailty is not inevitable with age but there are many preventable risk factors for frailty, such as depression, unhealthy diet, social isolation and physical inactivity. Seniors benefit from a lively household filled with a buzz of activity. It should be our honor to make them feel comfortable just being themselves, being loved and being cared for and revered. Both humans and animals have such a capacity to mentor. Whether a senior citizen can read a story, teach how to knit or make a birdhouse, a senior pet can teach the younger pets in the house how to behave.
So next time your drive by a nursing home or an animal shelter, know that there are wonderful opportunities to visit and look into those faces. They have been on the long journey of life and it should be our mission to find the true soul that lies within