The Benefits of a Therapy Pet for Seniors

The Benefits of a Therapy Pet for Seniors

For many older adults, mobility limitations, health issues and low energy can keep them from the social engagement they once enjoyed. Especially in seniors who live alone, social isolation can lead to loneliness, depression and poor physical health. Pet therapy has been shown to benefit seniors by improving depression and anxiety symptoms, increasing self-care, and even improving heart-health. It turns out giving and receiving unconditional love is literally good for your heart.

Proven Benefits of Pet Companionship

The Pets for the Elderly Foundation, a nationwide charity committed to connecting seniors with therapy animals, has collected research on pet therapy for seniors. These studies discuss the physiological and psychological impact of animals on seniors’ quality of life. Here are their findings:

Physical Benefits
Heart Health—Frequent interaction with a pet can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Improved Activity—Walking, grooming or playing with a pet increases the frequency of physical activity and exercise, which in turn has countless health benefits.
Healthy Behavior—Those who own a pet tend to take better care of themselves. Caring for a pet helps to develop a routine, encouraging owners to eat regularly or complete chores and other tasks.

Social & Emotional Benefits
Increased Interaction—Walking a dog gets senior owners out of the house and increases their opportunities to socialize with neighbors.
Decreased Loneliness—Pets provide companionship, giving isolated seniors a source for affection, conversation and activity.
Stress Relief—Being with a pet increases levels of serotonin, the “feel good” hormone that relieves stress. It also provides physical contact, which helps to calm anxiety.
Better Self-Esteem—For seniors discouraged by their age, appearance or limited abilities, pets are welcome company, reminding seniors that they are still capable of being loved and needed.
Sense of Purpose—The company of an animal provides a reason to get up in the morning. Pets combat depression symptoms by eliminating feelings of worthlessness or helplessness. Knowing that they are loved and needed enhances seniors’ mental health.

Things to Consider Before Getting a Pet
If you think your loved one would benefit from owning a pet, ask yourself these questions to help you make a wise decision:
What is the best choice for a pet? If your loved one has trouble walking or is more limited in their ability to provide constant attention to a pet, a cat might be a better choice than a dog.
Is my loved one an experienced pet owner?
Taking on the responsibilities of owning a pet could be overwhelming for a senior who has never had one before.
Are finances an issue? Consider your loved one’s financial situation. Animal care can be expensive, and if your loved one is on a fixed income, owning a pet could cause financial burdens. Assess the costs before you commit.
Choose the right pet. Do your research to find a pet whose age, size, personality and energy level fit well with your loved one’s.
Could I adopt an animal in need? Older animals in shelters have a lower adoption rate than puppies or kittens and have a greater risk of being euthanized. Adopting an adult, healthy pet for your loved one can eliminates the stress of training, match your loved one’s energy level and save the life of a loving animal.

By Caren Parnes

Capturing Family Memories with Oral Histories

Capturing Family Memories with Oral Histories

We find ourselves in a world-wide genealogy craze, as a variety of DNA testing options have become available and increasingly affordable, and a wide array of genealogy websites invite those who are mildly curious about their ancestry to dive in—sometimes hooking them into a life-long passion. But what many people discover when they begin their genealogy research is that the most important source of information about your family is your living relatives’ memories—of their own family experiences as well as the stories passed down to them through the generations. Increasingly our Greatest Generation is passing on, taking vital information about relatives and our family stories with them.

Capturing the facts and stories about our family by asking our relatives questions is called an “oral history.” These can take the form of relatively informal question and answer sessions around a dinner table recorded by hand, to a more structured interview involving audio or video recordings that can later be edited together to provide a valuable family media archive. However you choose to approach gathering and compiling this information, there are a few basic “best practices” to keep in mind as follows.

Collaborate with other family members. Brainstorm with as many family members as you can before starting an oral history. Discuss who are the most important people to interview and what people think the key things are that need to be recorded—whether that be missing facts about relatives who have passed—names, places and dates which will be helpful in building a picture of your family tree, or the more personal family stories and traditions. It is also useful to include as many accounts of the same information as possible, since people will have different memories of the same event.

Define your project. Clarity is key. Telling an entire family history in any form is a daunting project, so start with specific questions on information you wish to know. Start by gathering short vignettes. Maybe there’s a critical aspect of your own childhood you’d like to recapture such as a memorable family vacation. Often we are trying to identify facts we may not know about specific relatives, or where our family originated and how we got to where we are today. The whole story can’t be told overnight, but as you collect these separate anecdotes, the larger story will begin to emerge.

Have a list of questions ready. Experts advise framing questions in a way that invites expansive answers. Ask about early memories, or about happiest (and saddest) moments. The idea is to get a conversation started. StoryCorps, the oral history project created by the American Folklife Center, offers suggested questions and an interactive guide ( great-questions).

Techniques for recording information. While hand-written notes may be necessary when trying to record information on the fly, you probably already have the most useful tool for an oral history in your pocket. Smartphones can be used very successfully for video or audio documentation. Also, video conferencing services such as Skype and FaceTime offer recording options for interviewing distant relatives. If you choose to create a video of your interviews, easy-to-use software such as Apple’s iMovie and Microsoft’s Movie Maker are pre-installed on your computer.

Collecting and compiling oral histories entail effort and planning, but in the end, they bring generations of families together and foster an appreciation for listening and telling stories.

By Caren Parnes

Tips for Organizing Health Information

Tips for Organizing Health Information

A trip to the emergency room made me realize why caregivers are advised to organize heath information. When Mom broke her hip, I called an ambulance. When it arrived, I confidently recited Mom’s Medicare number. When asked what medications she took, I pulled out our basket of pill bottles. At the hospital, the questions got more complicated. Still, I knew enough to fill out the forms.
However, while I did not know it then, I would be joining Mom in the hospital the next day with an emergency of my own that kept me in the hospital for six weeks. As we both recovered, I looked for the best way to store her health information. I especially wanted an easy way to share it with others in case I am not around.

I now have a folder for paperwork that is portable and easy to maintain. It isn’t just for emergencies. We take it to every doctor visit. Now anyone who has the folder can see when Mom had her last flu shot, what medications she takes and that she had a malignant mole removed in 1981. We can all see when all medical appointments are scheduled. Even my brother, who lives at a distance, could answer medical questions if he had to take Mom to the doctor while visiting.

Information to collect

You probably have most of this information readily available. If not, begin with what you have and add information as you can. Useful information to collect includes: A medical history; health insurance and Medicare cards; a list of medications including dosages, frequency, date started and reason; a list of emergency contacts, relationship, addresses and all phone numbers; any special logs such as blood pressure readings, blood sugar levels or symptoms; a copy of a health care proxy, advanced directives or living will; and a power-of-attorney, if one is used.

What should you keep in a medical history?

Names of all physicians; known allergies or reactions to medications; all medications, including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and herbs; health conditions and date of diagnosis; dates of most recent exams, tests and immunizations; dates and reasons for hospitalizations; dates and details of surgeries; dates and length of major illnesses; history of smoking and use of alcohol; location of living will or medical directives; history of exposure to dangerous conditions or hazards; family history including illnesses or conditions of parents and siblings; cause of death of parents and siblings and their age at death.

Recording and storing the information

While the primary copy of the health information is more practical to keep in physical form due to various cards, forms and original documents that are part of the medical record, it is highly recommended that at least the medical history also be recorded digitally so that a “backup” copy is available in case of emergencies, disasters, or as the need arises to provide other family members or doctors with the information if needed remotely.

  • For the primary copy, use a pocket folder or small three-ring binder that will hold several pages. We purchased a multi-page presentation folder with clear pockets from an office supply store.
  • Use a bold color for the cover, such as red or yellow, so that it is easy to distinguish from other papers. Label the front clearly: EMERGENCY MEDICAL INFORMATION.
  • Keep the folder in a handy location, such as a desk drawer near the entry. Make sure every potential caregiver knows where it is kept.
  • Use top loading, clear sheet protectors to hold papers. These make it easy to remove papers for photocopying or for handing to a healthcare worker.
  • Pick up a business card from each healthcare provider you see. Cards usually contain the name, specialty, address, phone and fax number. There are vinyl business card holders available at office supply stores that are the most practical way to store business cards.
  • Each time you have an appointment, take the reminder card or jot the appointment details on a 3X5 card. Slip these cards into a page protector just as you did the business cards to keep a record of the visit.
  • When you add any information to a document, put the date at the top of the page to show how current the data is.

With a Medical History in hand,  I will never again have to phone a doctor’s office to relay information I didn’t have with me at the appointment, and I’m confident that if I’m not around, someone else can tell the emergency room doctors what they need to know about my loved one.

by Kathy Porter
Preserving the Life Stories of our Seniors

Preserving the Life Stories of our Seniors

Many families today are discovering and preserving one of life’s greatest treasures…the stories in the hearts and minds of our parents and grandparents. In our digital age, more and more families are saving their cherished family memories in digital formats like hard drives and DVDs. They have recognized the value of recording these stories for themselves, their children, and generations to come.

The art of getting these stories has taken on many forms. is a website where a loved story can be traced through genealogy. helps store a loved one’s physical memories of old film, photos, slides, and tape through digitization. StoryCorps is an independently funded 501(c)(3) organization. Its mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

In 1994, Spielberg funded a project to interview 50,000 Holocaust Survivors around the world. I worked on that project interviewing and recording the stories of those seniors. I was so emotionally moved by those stories that I started my company, Personal History Interviews, where we interview seniors one-on-one, and capture their unique memories.

When we encourage our aging loved ones to remember their past and talk about their memories and feelings, it validates the importance of their life’s experiences and strengthens family bonds. It reveals previously unknown facets of their character and past, helping us better understand who we are, where we are, and how we got here.

Through their own words, they are able to relive the accounts of their lives and experience a full range of emotion. These are not just the heroic stories of war or the building of a business empire. They are the real stories of struggle, failure, heartbreak, success, and love.

When you are ready to discover the treasures of your family, there are two major factors to consider when selecting a professional interviewer/videographer:

  • They have the best equipment. Their cameras, microphones, and lighting are going to give you the highest quality results. Remember, these treasured memories are going to last for generations to come and they should be preserved in the best possible manner. This is no time for the do-it-yourselfer!
  • They have the background and experience in working with and recording seniors. They have a plan with the best questions to ask to gain more insight into your loved one. Plus, having a non-family member in charge provides a blank page for stories to flow, which leads to capturing more memories that a family member may have not considered.

As we age, our memories not only seem more valuable, but more vivid. For many wistful seniors, the events of 60 years ago may be clearer than the day before. I encourage you to record these stories while loved ones are able and healthy enough to tell them.

Their stories are incredible!

Contributed by:
Dan Gelfond
Personal History Interviews

Keeping Seniors Healthy this Holiday Season

Keeping Seniors Healthy this Holiday Season

While the holidays are a time of gatherings with family and friends, they can also be hard on the senior’s health, as exercise schedules might be disrupted for shopping excursions and rich holiday meals can make it difficult to adhere to a particular diet. Add in flu season, and staying healthy can be a challenge during this time of year. Get your loved one’s caregiver involved to help manage expectations at holiday time.

To help seniors stay healthy during the holidays, follow these tips:

  • Make Healthy Choices.  From rich meals to tempting and tasty homemade snacks, the holidays are a time for many to indulge in food—or overindulge. Try to plan meals with other events in mind. For example, if a big dinner is planned for New Year’s Eve, consider serving a lighter lunch of salad or soup.
  • Stay Hydrated.  Drinking plenty of water is one way you can stay healthy. To make it easier to stay hydrated, have water easily accessible at home and keep bottled water in a purse or bag when running errands.
  • Follow Dietary Restrictions.  Some seniors must follow special diets, but it can be difficult to adhere to a diet during this busy season, especially if there aren’t any healthy options available. To comply with dietary restrictions, carry healthy options in the car while traveling or ready to eat at home.
  • Drink in Moderation.  Alcohol can affect balance and so increase the risk of falls, and also may interact with some medications. Consider offering fun, alcohol-free drinks so everyone can celebrate the holidays safely.
  • Keep Exercising. In many parts of the country, the holidays are synonymous with cold weather and snow. To stick to an exercise schedule when the weather is inclement, develop a gentle exercise routine at home for your loved one, or drive to an indoor shopping mall and walk a few laps while window-shopping.
  • Shake up Traditions. Between cleaning the house and cooking for a crowd, hosting a big holiday meal can be a source of stress. If an older relative traditionally hosts a big holiday meal, consider passing the tradition on to the younger generation of family members. If the relative insists on hosting, have younger family members volunteer to clean or prepare part of the meal.
  • Simplify Gift-Giving. For many seniors, especially those on a fixed income, the holidays can be a financial challenge when purchasing gifts for many family members. To reduce this financial stress, consider having a family grab bag, where everyone contributes one gift.
  • Rest After Traveling. For some seniors, the holidays are a time to travel long distances to visit family and friends. Consider providing down time for your loved one, such as a nap or watching a movie upon arrival, rather than planning a family gathering or holiday activities as soon as they get to their destination.
  • Make Homes Accessible.  If older relatives are visiting your home for the holidays, ensure your home is safe and accessible. Make sure there are no tripping hazards such as rugs or exposed cords, and have them sleep on the first floor if possible. If that’s not possible, let them stay in a room close to the bathroom. In addition, use nightlights in the hallway so they don’t stumble in the dark.
  • Take Breaks.  Between parties and shopping, the holidays often involve busy days and late nights. If you are planning an outing, try to carve some time for a nap at home for the senior, or if that is not possible, take breaks during the day, such as at a restaurant or coffee shop. Kids, seniors and everyone in-between will appreciate it.
  • Help Them Stay Involved.  Recognize that seniors want to feel they are part of your holiday activities. For many, that may include helping out with holiday preparations. Offer them the opportunity to help within their capabilities, such as assistance with cooking, gift-wrapping or decorating.

With a few preventative measures and a willingness to adjust some traditions, senior citizens can stay healthy and follow their diets, while also having fun with their family members this holiday season.

By Caren Parnes

Contributor for The Senior’s Choice

Personal Care Agreements

Personal Care Agreements

Many families reach a point when they see that an ill or older relative needs more than occasional help. But who’ll provide that care? The answer is usually close to home: an adult child. A child might be the default choice, or is selected because they live closer or have fewer family responsibilities.

The person providing care for a loved one may make a significant sacrifice like giving up a job or employment benefits. A formal agreement among family members can provide a way to compensate a person providing care if he/she is no longer able to hold other employment. While most families wish to help care for a loved one, it’s a job with heavy time commitments and responsibilities. One way of protecting the caregiver and the person receiving care is by putting the care relationship in writing. This is most often referred to as a “personal care agreement.”

What Is a Personal Care Agreement?

The agreement is a contract, typically between a family member who agrees to provide caregiver services for a disabled or aging relative and the person receiving care. This agreement is commonly between an adult child and their parent, but other relatives may be involved, such as an adult grandchild caring for a grandparent. Drawing up an agreement clarifies for a family what tasks are expected in return for a stated compensation. It can help avoid family conflicts about who will provide care and how much money will change hands. For this reason, the agreement should be discussed prior with other family members to resolve any concerns.

When contracting with family, it’s wise to treat the agreement as a legal document. If a relative is receiving state supported in-home care, the agreement will show the state where the money is going. Also, it can offset any confusion among those concerned about bequests to heirs, and avoid misunderstandings later over the reduction of inheritance money.

Components of an Agreement

A personal care agreement has three basic requirements for a person to pay family for care:
1. The agreement must be in writing.
2. The payment must be for care provided in the future (not for services already performed).
3. Compensation for care must be reasonable. This means tasks performed should match “reasonable” or “customary” fees typically paid to a third-party for the same care in your geographic area.

A properly drafted agreement will contain the following information: date the care begins; detailed description of services provided, for example, “transportation and errands” (driving to medical, dental, adult day care, and other appointments) or “food preparation”; how often services will be provided (allow for flexibility in care needs by using language such as, “no less than 20 hours a week” or “up to 80 hours a month”); how much and when the caregiver will be compensated (weekly or biweekly); how long the agreement is to be in effect (the agreement should set time, such as a year or two years, or even over a person’s lifetime); a statement that the terms of the agreement can be modified only by mutual agreement of the parties in writing; and, the location where services are to be provided (allow for the location of the care to change in response to increasing care needs); signatures by the parties; and date of the agreement.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

You don’t need to hire an attorney, but it’s advisable when entering into a contractual relationship. There are various legal agreement template available. Here is one option you can explore:

This article was reworked from a more extensive discussion of the topic at the Caregiver’s Alliance:

—By Caren Parnes