Newfound Purpose for Seniors: Child and Kitten Care
by Lisa DiFalco
As noted previously, depression can occur for senior and elderly populations and worsen co-occurring conditions. Recommendations for socialization, exercise and other forms of activity can help seniors find enjoyment during their day. An article providing potential treatment options, Purpose and Group Activities: Preventing Suicide in Seniors, offers options easily implemented in a residential care setting or nursing home facility. Recent news highlights unusual activities allowing seniors to make an impact and form bonds with others, human and animal, that brighten their days and elicit verbal and cognitive responses rarely seen otherwise. Explore the potential outcomes that can occur in populations when caregivers provide seniors with opportunities to support the needs of children and kittens, finding a new sense of purpose.
A Seattle Preschool and Nursing Home
Providence Mount St. Vincent is a senior care center located in West Seattle. The preschool is called the Intergenerational Learning Center. Children and more than 400 older adults come together on a Seattle campus to participate in a range of activities five days a week. Interacting with the children made a profound impact on the lives of the residents, according to Evan Briggs, adjunct professor and filmmaker. Briggs reports that residents experienced a “complete transformation in the presence of the children. Moments before the kids came in, sometimes the people seemed half alive, sometimes asleep. It was a depressing scene. As soon as the kids walked in for art or music or making sandwiches for the homeless or whatever the project that day was, the residents came alive.”
Brigg filmed much of the activity during the 2012-2013 school year in “Present Perfect.” Parents of the children that she has come to know shared that they “see the benefit of the model.” Evan believes that this approach that brings generations together is a “genius” idea and is “well within our reach.” Briggs said:
“It’s a great example of how we integrate the elderly into society.”
The filmmaker’s efforts to edit the film via a Kickstarter campaign have gained international attention and have sparked conversations on how to improve senior care and health outcomes when we change the paradigm surrounding the concept of aging. Briggs shared:
“It’s so amazing to see that this story is resonating so broadly. I think the global attention is saying something about where we are as a society. And I’m optimistic about the possibilities for changing the way we think about aging.”
As families and healthcare professionals are aware, fewer relationships and limited social circles can exacerbate symptoms of depression in the elderly. While medication and other forms of activities may help some seniors, interaction with young people can often trigger happy memories and create natural opportunities for the elderly to talk, laugh and engage with others.
Senior Care and Kittens
Catalina Springs Memory Care facility offers a program that has helped both vulnerable kittens and senior living residents. Bottle Babies is a program that connects kittens that need constant care with residents that can feed and play with them. Rebecca Hamilton, health service director at Catalina Springs, wrote:
“We have some residents who are chronically searching, chronically looking for something that is familiar, something that holds meaning to them. We can place one of the kittens in their hands, and suddenly they’re not searching, they’re not stressed.”
Hamilton is responsible for initiating the idea as she is a kitten fosterer for the Pima Animal Care Center. It seemed to her that having Catalina Springs residents care for the kittens could be a mutually beneficial program. Staff have seen remarkable changes since the start of the program. Hamilton shared:
“We have noticed that [in] interacting with the kittens, we have residents who struggled with putting complete sentences together, or struggled to find words, could all of a sudden communicate. They could look at you and say, ‘This kitten is hungry’ or ‘I love this little baby.’”
Many residents that are living with an incurable disease benefit from feeling productive and making an impact on the life of another living being. Pet therapy is being embraced in more health care and mental health settings. Recently in Hot Trend in Senior Care: Animal-Assisted Therapy, animal interactions have gotten group therapy participants to share and have triggered positive behavioral changes. Patients and residents with depression, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia appear to benefit with improved social interactions, a higher level of mobility, and interest in self-care.
New Ways to Help Seniors Enjoy Residential Living
Seniors often suffer from worsening health conditions as they age and are placed in residential living centers and nursing homes. Programs that promote opportunities for unique social interactions can alleviate feelings of isolation, loneliness and despair. There are a number of antidepressant medications that can improve mood in senior populations such as serotonin, tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors and more. In addition, programs that include activities with animals or young children can supplement any existing health and mental wellness activities already in place at a given facility. Purpose and making an impact on the lives of others are important aspects to feeling as if one is living a meaningful and productive life.
Seniors that require immediate attention or show suicidal behaviors need to be connected to services such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Families and case managers can also learn more about the mental health needs of aging adults in a booklet offered from the National Institute of Mental Health, “Depression: What You Need to Know.”
Families, health professionals, facility directors and case managers can identify the needs of the populations that they serve, locate local resources and provide additional opportunities to engage seniors and the elderly. It is time to rethink how senior care and wellness is currently approached in facilities, nursing homes and communities across America.