Encinitas Times - Pets brighten life at Encinitas senior home
Encinitas, CA, April 15, 2001 — Dogs, cats, birds boost spirits, improve health at Silverado center Adam Kaye, Staff Writer ENCINITAS – When Lillian Summerville was preparing to make the difficult move to an assisted-living home, she thought her Chinese pug would have to stay behind. “I was really upset I was having to leave her,” she said of feisty Ming Tien, But Summerville, 74, ended up in a home that allowed her to bring her dog. “That made a big difference,” she said. Summerville and Ming Tien now live with 34 people, Cisco the Australian shepherd, Fat Cat, two cockatiels, two parakeets and a pair of bunnies at Silverado Living home in Encinitas. The human residents suffer from varying degrees of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The Silverado facility, and an increasing number of other assisted-living homes, permit residents to keep their own pets. Staff members also are encouraged to bring their own animals. Doctors, residents and staff members agree that pets on the premises provide numerous mental and physical health benefits. “You may not remember the people around you but you can remember your cats,” said Silverado spokeswoman Tracey Murphy. As America’s senior population increases, so have concerns by doctors over seniors’ mental health. By 2030, the population of people age 65 and older is expected to double from 35 million to 70 million. Likewise, the 4 million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease also are expected to have psychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer’s according to a 1999 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Some experts say the American health-care system is unequipped to serve seniors’ mental health needs. “I think there’s going to be a crisis,” said Dilip V. Jeste, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at UC San But for some afflictions, such as depression and loneliness, pets can be part of the solution. “I think pet therapy is part of the whole picture,” Jeste said. “It’s definitely a growing trend.” At Silverado’s Encinitas site, staff members say the pets encourage residents to be social. Animals get people talking. With pets in the building, Diego and the Veterans Administration Medical Center. residents are more likely to leave their rooms and make friends. Pets prevent loneliness. They encourage their owners to walk and play. In any institutional setting, hopelessness and boredom can infect residents, experts say. But critters can combat those scourges by giving residents a sense of control and purpose. A 1999 report in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society concluded that most older people benefit from owning a pet. “Pet ownership had a statistically significant effect on the physical health of older people,” the researchers stated. Experts say pets can lower blood pressure. Then there’s the happiness factor. Friendly pets at Silverado’s 11 facilities in California, Utah and Texas have helped to reduce mood-altering medicines given to patients by 69 percent, Murphy said. “Instead of using medication we put a cat on their lap or give them a dog to care for,” she said. “I have no question that that’s true,” said Don Klingborg, the director of UC Davis’ Center for Animals in Society, which studies the relationships between animals and people. “Dogs and cats are always happy to see you. They don’t care how you look. The tail still wags and they still purr,” Klingborg said. At Silverado’s Encinitas site, Ming Tien’s curly tail doesn’t wag but everything else seems to on the toaster-sized put. The short-haired, black-masked dog’s name means “bright day.” Summerville said Ming represents just that. “She’s here all the time,” Summerville said as the zippy dog thrashed a small section of rope designed for that purpose. “She keeps me busy and it’s never dull.” Life can be terrible if a person moves to a retirement facility and can’t bring a beloved pet along, just as Summerville had feared, said Lorri Greene, a psychologist from Cardiff who for 15 years has studied the bond between people and animals. “That pet may be the only link to a husband who isn’t living,” Greene said. As scientific research validating the human-animal bond continues, Greene predicts more and more senior facilities will allow residents to live with their pets. Greene uses a “therapy cat” to calm the nerves of anxious patients. Tactile stimulation is especially important for the elderly, she said. “Often times as we get older there’s not a lot of touching going on and animals give them that,” Greene said. Pets also provide humor therapy that raises endorphin levels. Beyond offering laughs and unconditional love, pets give seniors someone to take care of. “In a lot of assisted-living homes, they’ll almost fight over who gets to feed the cat,” Greene said. No such conflict was evident at Silverado’s Encinitas facility last week. Maryann Fargo peacefully observed Guy and Hi Guy, black and white bunnies she tends in the solarium. Cisco, the omnipresent Australian shepherd, rides the elevators and patrols the halls. An Italian greyhound and terrier mix named Rex is a favorite lap dog in the activity room. Across the hallway from Summerville’s dynamo Ming is Fat Cat, a languid, watermelon shaped tabby who has claimed ownership of an extra bed in Betty Riley’s room. Riley, 76, lays a hand on Fat Cat, absorbing his tranquility. “Cats are quite relaxing,” Riley said. “They come sauntering down the hall and you say, ‘Look how relaxed they are. Maybe life isn’t supposed to be so hard.’” Photographs: Above, resident Maryann Fargo scratches the head of Rex, an Italian greyhound terrier mix, while at the Silverado Senior Living facility in Encinitas. Below, resident Elizabeth Riley rubs the belly of Fat Cat as he relaxes on her bed. Kitty Cat hangs out in the hallway of the Silverado Senior Living facility.