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Four Things I Learned from My Stay in Assisted Living

My name is Bongo, and I recently spent several days in an assisted living community with my mom, who was visiting her mom, a resident there. The community, located in North Carolina, allows residents to keep pets as long as they are able to care for them. Several residents have cats, and some have dogs (mostly small dogs, probably because they require less exercise and are physically easier to manage). During my stay, I walked around with my mom; and we met several of the residents. Through these interactions, I learned four key things about people in LTC settings:

  • Some people are lonely and hungry for conversation. One man in particular stopped my mom whenever he was in the lobby and we walked by. He would pet my head, but he clearly was more interested in having a conversation with my mom. He talked about his home state of Pennsylvania (where we also live) and his travels as a salesman for Cannon Mills. He happily answered questions and seemed to like talking about himself, but my mom and I didn’t mind. It clearly made him feel good. Quite a few of the residents we met seemed to have cognitive impairment or hearing problems, which made conversations difficult. For those who are alert and hungry for conversation, a visitor—even in furry form—is a welcome ear.
  • Pets heal. I met one woman who was in the AL community with her husband and dog. Her husband had dementia (early stage), and she told my mom that her dog helped her deal with her husband’s illness. When she couldn’t communicate with her husband the way she did before he got sick, she could always talk to her dog. It made her feel better.
  • Even dogs can get lonely. All of the dogs I encountered seemed eager to meet me, and some wanted to play. Dog owners need to remember that even dogs sometimes like the company of their own kind. They want to consider play dates with friends’ or family’s dogs that are friendly and comparable in size and energy level.
  • All dogs need exercise. I noticed that some dogs only go to walk a few feet out the door to do their business, then they came right back inside. Some owners clearly were too frail for a long walk. But even small dogs like a little exercise. Maybe residents or community leaders could arrange for volunteers or family members to take dogs for longer walks on occasion