Q: I am 67 years old, retired and I live alone. I have had pets in the past, and I am thinking of getting a pet now to keep me company. What are some of the things I should consider first?

Answer: There are certainly benefits to owning a pet. Studies show that they can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve memory, and increase social interaction. Pets can also have a positive effect on symptoms of depression and feelings of loneliness. Research has shown that stroking or talking to a pet brings about a chemical reaction in the brain that releases high levels of enhancing hormones, such as serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin while, at the same time, releasing fewer stress hormones. Other positive benefits include the increased mobility and likelihood for social interactions that come with walking a dog.

These are some amazing benefits, but there are a few things to think about before making a decision that could affect your lifestyle for years to come. You should not only evaluate your current situation and limitations but also consider how circumstances could change in the future. Pet ownership is a long-term commitment, both financially and personally. A puppy’s food, medical care, toys, and grooming can add up to hundreds of dollars —and that’s just in the first year.

What will your health and finances look like in a year? In five years and beyond? Is there a possibility that you will be considering moving in with relatives or downsizing in the next few years?

If so, it’s important to have a backup plan for your pet. What if you unexpectedly had to go into the hospital for a few nights? Who could you ask to look after your pet?

Also, if you have difficulty with mobility, walking a dog might be a challenge. You’ll want to remember, too, that some bending and lifting could be necessary in caring for and cleaning up after your pet.

It is helpful that you have had pets before and have experience with them, but first-timers can also be great pet owners just as long as they are open to a new commitment.

Choosing the right pet to fit your lifestyle is key. A pet’s age, temperament, health, and activity level should factor into your decision.

Walking a large dog or getting up in the middle of the night with a puppy might be a challenge.

Maybe a cat, bird or fish would be a better fit.

Often, shelter employees know an animal’s personality and can recommend a good match based on what you’re looking for.

If pet ownership is not a possibility for you now, there are other ways to include animals in your life. Fostering a pet for a few weeks or committing time to the local humane society, where there is a large need for volunteers, is another option.

Animals benefit from adoption, too. Retired adults usually have more time to devote to a pet and to spend establishing a loving bond.

The Forsyth Humane Society offers seniors a “deal” on adopting a pet through their “Senior for a Senior” program at both of their locations.

If you are over 60 years old and are adopting a senior pet — one that is more than 7 years old — there is no adoption fee. (Note: Anyone not a senior who adopts a pet more than 7 years old pays just half the adoption fee.)

You can contact the Forsyth Humane Society by calling 336-955-1750 or visit their website at www.forsythhumane.org.

Remember hours and procedures may vary due to COVID-19 safety precautions and restrictions.

Q: I haven’t been able to visit my dad in his nursing home because of the coronavirus. What can I do to keep him connected and prevent him from being lonely?

MS

Answer: Maintaining contact with loved ones in nursing homes has become a common challenge since the pandemic began.

As the COVID-19 continues to impact communities across the US, it is important to keep seniors, especially those in nursing homes, safe from contracting the virus as they are members of one of the highest risk groups.

The Centers for Disease Control has guidelines which call for the restriction of all visitors and volunteers and the postponement of all communal meals and activities.

Unfortunately, this means that many seniors may become lonely and isolated, which does have detrimental impacts on health.

Daily Care (dailycare.com), a website for caregivers, has these tips to stay connected to those in nursing homes:

  • Establish a regular contact schedule to reassure your loved one you are there for them. Set up a schedule and stick to it. This can be done by calling on the telephone, texting, or a video call. Just knowing they are going to hear from you at a certain time can provide comfort..
  • Video calls are wonderful too so you can both see each other. There is extra comfort and reassurance in seeing someone’s face. In addition, you can better assess his health and well-being and he can feel reassured seeing someone he knows and trusts.

Video calls can be done on a laptop or smart phone through a number of ways. There are apps like Facetime, Zoom, Google Hang Outs, and Skype that can be easily set up.

Depending on your father’s capabilities and living situation, assistance from the facility may be necessary to set up these videos calls.

  • If the care community allows cards and gifts you can be creative in putting together a care package.

Gather some of his favorite snacks, books, games, and any other comfort items. Include a picture and handwritten letter or card for a nice touch.

Wiping off items to disinfect before sending is a good idea just in case your loved one is at high risk of complications from COVID-19.

  • Everyone loves getting mail. Ask friends and family to drop a note or card to your dad to let him know others are thinking about him. He can display these in his room and they can serve as a reminder others are thinking about him.

The good news is that these tips apply to those who are in town or out of town. If you are in town, some families are enjoying scheduled window visits, where they visit their loved one from outside of their window, create signs for them to read, and even sing to them.

Combining all of these tips will certainly let your dad know he is remembered and make him feel less isolated.

AgeWise is a weekly column compiled by staff of Senior Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Winston-Salem. If you have a question, email agewise@seniorservicesinc.org or mail to Senior Services, 2895 Shorefair Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27105.

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