For most long term care residents, limiting the spread of coronavirus has meant long periods of isolation. Even before the pandemic, social isolation and loneliness were considered serious health risks for older Americans. Most facilities have asked that no one enter the facilities unless they are employees because there is a high risk that COVID-19 would spread rapidly once it is introduced. Group activities have been canceled and, in many facilities, residents are eating in their rooms, as all communal dining has been stopped. These restrictions significantly increase isolation and results in loneliness of residents.
In looking for creative ways to help High County long term care residents combat loneliness and isolation, the High Country Area Agency on Aging purchased Joy for All Companion Pets for the local nursing homes and assisted living facilities. These interactive, robotic pets are designed to bring comfort, companionship, and fun to older adults.
Joy for All research findings showed positive changes in older adults that engaged with the pets. These included reduced anxiety and agitation, and improved overall well-being, resulting in socialization with others, decreased episodes of delirium, decreased need for psychotropic medications, and reduction in caregiver burden.
Piper Rowe, executive director for Ashe Assisted Living in West Jefferson, North Carolina said, “the companion pets have been a huge hit in our memory care. We have seen residents talking and interacting with the animals, some have spoken more words to the cat than they have to us in months. What a true joy to see their eyes light up and the smiles”!
Preventing loneliness and isolation during the pandemic is vital for resident well-being. While visitation is still limited, family and friends of residents can make phone calls, write letters, schedule window visits if permitted, make artwork, and schedule virtual visits with residents. These efforts can greatly improve quality of life for long term care residents affected by pandemic restrictions. For additional information on the Joy for All companion pets or long term care issues, contact the High Country Area Agency on Aging at www.highcountryaging.org.