A survey published by www.stayinmyhome.co.uk1 has found that over two million people in Britain say they know an elderly person who had to have their cat and/or dog put to sleep because they were moving into a residential care home. The survey also found 20% say the elderly people they know with pets would refuse to go into care without their pets. Additionally, 18.5% said they knew an elderly person who had to have their cat or dog rehomed.
In the same month that a national helpline2 revealed the extent of the loneliness experienced by elderly people, this evidence provides a graphic insight into one of the most distressing decisions facing a growing number considering moving from their home to residential care: what to do with a much-loved pet that is not permitted to join them. Up to 71 per cent of residential homes and sheltered housing schemes refuse to allow residents to have pets3. Their refusal is causing current and future generations of elderly people real distress.
To ease their suffering, a group of the UK’s leading live-in homecare providers have partnered to launch an information resource that offers people valuable insight into an alternative to residential care that means they need not be separated from their much-loved pet. The website, www.stayinmyhome.co.uk, has been developed by The Live-in Homecare Information Hub, a coalition of 13 leading live-in homecare providers. The site illustrates how, with the right professional support, elderly people can stay in their home, close to family, in familiar surroundings with the animal they love: rather than face a future in residential care without them.
Dominique Kent from The Live-In Homecare Information Hub explains: “To support the launch of www.stayinmyhome.co.uk, we commissioned fresh research in a bid to highlight the distressing choices facing elderly people destined to be separated from their pets. The vast majority4 of older people in the UK don’t want to move into residential care, with what is often an institutional and regimented way of life, away from familiar surroundings, friends, family and pets. In fact, 97 per cent of people feel most comfortable in their own home with 71 per cent wanting to be living in their own home when they are over 75+.”
The Live-in Homecare Information survey also found that the prospect of entering a care home and being separated from their pet could cause some elderly people to consider taking steps that might actually cause them harm: To avoid going into a home for much-needed care, 17.4% of elderly people would pretend they were in good health. To avoid being separated from their pet, 8.8% would make themselves more ill rather than leave their pet. Shockingly, when asked about elderly pet owners they know who have moved – or about to move into residential care, 4.3% of respondents said they would consider taking their own lives or talk about taking their own lives due to concerns about their pets.
Given elderly people’s fears about moving into a care home and being separated from pets they love, it is little surprise the survey found support for live-in care at home. Over 18% of respondents believed that those elderly people they knew would, if they were aware of live-in homecare, try to arrange to be cared for at home in order to remain with their pet.
Dr. Glen Mason, Director of People, Communities and Local Government, Department of Health comments: “Live-in care is a long established but relatively unknown, growing alternative to residential and nursing care that substantially extends the care choice available to the individual. It allows someone with high levels of need to remain in their own home and community and lead a good quality life in familiar surroundings. I expect live-in care to continue to grow in popularity and to become the high quality first care choice of many people.”
Health benefits – pets and the elderly
The Society for Companion Animal Studies5, which promotes the study of human-companion animal interactions and raises awareness of the importance of pets in society, highlighted research that shows the benefits pets can bring to people suffering acute illness. According to the report, “pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with a decrease in cardiovascular dementia risk and may have some causal role in reducing CVD risk”. The benefits experienced by elderly people who choose to remain in the familiar surroundings of home supported by professional carers is made clear in a survey of adult social care published by Age UK6.
Margaret & Henry’s story*
Margaret, 83, benefited greatly from live-in homecare, which allowed her to stay with her beloved golden retriever, Henry. Margaret’s family became concerned in 2012 when she seemed to be more distant and vague. After a fall, she was hospitalised, where her one concern was to get back to Henry. Margaret was diagnosed with early stage dementia. It was clear she needed care, support andguidance for her memory impairment. Margaret’s family contacted The Good Care Group who matched her with live-in carer, Anne. Anne began to build a relationship with Margaret in hospital and managed the transition from hospital to home. Margaret is now well and supported by two carers, Anne and Olga, she walks Henry regularly and sees friends and neighbours. Carer, Anne says: ‘’Henry has been such a comfort to Margaret over the years that I firmly believe he has been a fundamental influence to her wellbeing and recovery.’’