How kittens are giving nursing home residents a new sense of purpose
Many people who move to senior living centers at the end of long, productive, lives — especially those experiencing forms dementia — find themselves frustrated.
Thanks to a wonderful new program called "Bottle Babies", senior living residents are regaining a sense of purpose.
The program allows seniors to feed and play with orphaned kittens who are in need of 24/7 care.
Rebecca Hamilton,the health service director at Catalina Springs, came up with the idea to bring the kittens to the facility. She's a veteran kitten fosterer at Pima Animal Care Center and knows that really young kittens require constant care. She thought having the residents at Catalina Springs look after them might be a mutually beneficial program.
"We have some residents who are chronically searching, chronically looking for something that is familiar, something that holds meaning to them," Hamilton shared. "We can place one of the kittens in their hands, and suddenly they're not searching, they're not stressed."
From the moment the kittens arrived, the staff noticed a significant, positive change in the residents' moods.
"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," Hamilton explained about the kittens' effect on the residents. "They could look at you and say, 'This kitten is hungry' or 'I love this little baby.'"
It's a win-win relationship.
The residents help feed and play with the kittens, and the kittens, in turn, give the residents a sense of purpose. Those moments of clarity and communication that the kittens bring out in their human caretakers are "incredibly monumental," Hamilton said.
According to the staff at Catalina Springs, that feeling of being useful and productive can often be the best medicine when dealing with an incurable disease.
"They get to be grandparents again."
"To some it may seem peculiar at first: Residents who are in need of around-the-clock care themselves, given the task to care for these young kittens," Catalina Springs Memory Care Executive Director Sharon Mercer, said. "But there are skills, emotions and needs that do not just leave a person with Dementia or Alzheimer's. The desire to give love and receive love remains. The kittens have given us the opportunity to nurture this human condition that lies in each and every one of our residents."
Prima Animal Care Center is also planning to expand soon, and several other animal welfare organizations have expressed interest in starting similar programs. Pet therapy is known to benefit patients living with these mental illnesses immensely, so it's encouraging to see the idea catching on.
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