How a Dog Positively Impacted the Lives of the Elderly
I’d like to introduce you to an acquaintance of mine who has devoted her life to the love of animals and their abilities to assist others. Our guest post is by Barb Techel. Please read not only the post, but her bio as well. She is a woman filled with love and compassion who shares so much with the world. Unfortunately, Frankie is no longer with us, but her spirit lives on in the lives of those she touched.
Here’s Barb’s story:
For over three years I had the great honor and privilege of sharing my certified therapy dog Frankie, with residents at a senior assisted facility called Libby’s House. Many of the residents at the facility have Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Frankie brought smiles to the resident’s faces when they’d see her roll through the front door for her monthly scheduled visit. So many of them could relate to Frankie because many have walkers or wheelchairs just like Frankie who was also in a (dog) wheelchair because of a disc disease she was diagnosed with years before.
It is hard for loved ones of Alzheimer’s or dementia patients to see the person they love turn into someone they barely recognize. But animals seem to bring back memories for those struggling with these diseases. I can’t tell you how often some of the resident’s would recall animals they’d had in their lives. They often shared stories with me of the different things they did with their pets and how much they loved them. Pets also provide comfort, and take away some of the loneliness the elderly may feel.
Lyla, was 96 years old when we began visiting. She had trouble communicating and when she tried it was hard to understand her as her words were not audible. On our third visit with her, Sally said Frankie’s name clear as a bell. Hard to deny that there was a positive impact happening for Sally. Though I still could not understand any other words Sally was trying to share with me, her face was quite animated when she sat with Frankie chattering up a storm. She also loved holding on tight to Frankie’s leash as if Frankie was her very own.
Another resident, Lillian, was 103 years old when she first met Frankie. Lillian’s granddaughter, Tammy, couldn’t believe the connection Lillian and Frankie had. She told me that her grandmother, for most of her life, really didn’t like dogs. But Lillian loved Frankie and would often want Frankie to sit on her lap. I’ll never forget the day Lillian was petting Frankie and looked and me and said, “Frankie is love.”
One of my favorite residents, Janice, made quite the statement when she first met Frankie. She said, “I don’t like dogs! And I don’t like cats or fish, either!”
I gently said, “Why don’t you like dogs?”
She said, “Because I was bit by a dog when I was little.”
I said, “I understand.”
It took about six months but with a little gentle coaxing and understanding from me, Janice eventually reached out to pet Frankie. When Frankie licked her arm, Janice laughed with delight. From that day forward, Janice and Frankie were the best of friends.
While we may not always be able to communicate clearly with those we love suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, an animal can help be the bridge to a new type of communication between you and your loved one. Pets can provide a calm and peaceful state of mind for your loved one, and may also spark some memories that you can reflect on together.
Names in this story have been changed to protect their privacy, though permission granted to share photos.
Barbara Techel is the award-winning author Frankie, the Walk ‘N Roll Dog children’s book series. When her dachshund, Frankie, suffered a spinal injury, Barbara had her custom-fitted for a wheelchair. Frankie persevered, and Barbara realized the beautiful opportunity she had to share Frankie and give others hope and inspiration to be the best they can be. Barbara and Frankie visited over 400 schools and libraries in person and via Skype between 2008 and 2012. They also volunteered as a certified therapy dog team making over 250 visits to an area senior assisted facility, hospice, and hospital until Frankie’s passing in June 2012.
Barbara continues her advocacy for dogs with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) which is what Frankie had, along with bringing positive awareness and educating others that dogs can live a quality life in a wheelchair. She is currently busy working on a special day in Frankie’s memory as well as honoring all wheelchair dogs around the world called, “National Walk ‘N Roll Dog Day.”
Barbara is also currently working on a new book that chronicles the past ten years of tremendous growth for her and what she has learned about life through the lessons Frankie has taught her. Look for her new book, Through Frankie’s Eyes: One Woman’s Journey to Her Authentic Self and the Dog on Wheels Who Led the Way to be released in early 2013.
Here’s where you can find Barbara:
As always, your comments are greatly appreciated. If you have a story to share please let me know!