Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could give each one of our lonely senior citizens a cuddly companion?
Plush stuffed animals provide free hugs all of the time, cannot be tripped over and won’t bark, jump, bite or scratch. They give fidgety hands a soft and comforting place to rest and often bring back fond memories as people remember pets that they once loved.
The saddest part of the COVID-19 pandemic, for me, is the effect of the social isolation on our old-age pensioners. Many have been cut off from their families, friends, and each other. Ice-cream and craft days, bingo, essential exercise classes and excursions have been decimated. Opportunities for connection are minimal.
“Social isolation and loneliness is a serious public health concern… because of its strong connection with cardiovascular, autoimmune, neurocognitive, and mental health problems1”
I was raised in my father’s veterinary practice and thus understand the huge value of pets in terms of connection. “…interactions with them and positive physical contact lead to a variety of physiological and psychological benefits. It also releases biochemicals which can further boost the immune system and enhance health and well-being2”.
Any of you with pets will know that animals can make us feel better. They comfort us, reduce our stress, amuse us, provide companionship, create joy and offer unconditional love.
What happens when people cannot have access to or are not able to care for a pet? Do you think it is possible to substitute a real live animal with a lifelike and friendly stuffed animal? I believe that it is!
We have had an outpouring of requests for fluffy friends since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents in aged care facilities who are disconnected, lonely or cut off from their families and friends have been taking huge comfort from our realistic plush toy pets.
They find connection with these “substitute emotional support animals” because they can stroke them, talk to them, share them, and cuddle them.
Megan lives in an aged care facility where the reality of Covid 19 meant no social visitations and many long, lonely days. A friend bought her a realistic Bichon Fries fluffy toy to which she bonded immediately and has kept at her side ever since. Her friend was delighted to share “the great pleasure it has given her and the difference to her health having the dog has made has been remarkable”. She went on to say that having a cuddly companion has “enabled Megan to have the comfort of feeling she was sharing her home with a real-life dog”.
As restrictions have eased, Megan has been able to share her little dog with the other residents in her retirement village. She says that “after lots of stroking and cuddling, many of the residents confessed to having “toy” companions themselves, but had been shy of admitting this to other people”.
Another beautiful story is from Suzie who is 90 years old and was gifted a true-to-life Border Collie plush toy. She has had amazing dogs and cats throughout her life but can no longer keep a pet because of the responsibility of its care and the risks of being scratched or tripping over it. Her new friend sleeps at the bottom of her bed and she feels that her life has completely changed because she is no longer alone. She loves the fact that there is always a welcoming and friendly face to greet her when she re-enters her room and finds great relief in the fact that she will not be leaving a live animal to “mourn and suffer” when she passes on.
Suzie states that “mentally it is as important as children having their Teddy bears, so in our second childhood it is just as important”
Julie found a Burmese kitten soft toy for her husband, Bob who suffers from Dementia. He was very anxious and her hope was that a reminder of his beloved cat, Lucy, who had once given him great comfort, would ease his agitation. She was so thrilled to share that “When he saw it first, he wrapped her in a serviette that was on his lap, I think to keep her warm”. The kitten now has her own blanket and is always there, serving as something soft and soothing for Bob to rest his hands on.
If you know any lonely old people, please consider finding them a suitable plush stuffed companion. Give them the gift of connection, love and comfort.
2 Why Companion Animals Are Beneficial During COVID-19 Pandemic Unnati G Hunjan MSc, Jayasankara Reddy, MSc, MBA, PGDCNP, PhD