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Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist Margaret Halloran

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenSeptember 7, 2013

A Place for Mom is proud to announce the commencement of their annual $1,000 scholarship for advancement in the field of gerontology. This is a general scholarship which will award the selected applicants with a financial donation. We have narrowed-down the finalists, which includes Margaret Halloran.

Congratulations to Margaret Halloran, Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist! Read Margaret’s essay below and vote for her if you think she deserves to be one of the 5 recipients of the $1,000 scholarship awards.

Margaret’s Essay

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A few years ago, I picked my cousin up from the airport a couple days before Thanksgiving. We were driving to see our parents about six hours away. He had just returned from his third tour to the Middle East, most recently in Afghanistan. He was excited to see I had my dog with me, and mentioned
that dogs give people something to talk about. Upon returning, he said it felt like things at home were just so different from being deployed. But a dog, even just a little Shih tzu like mine, gives you something to talk about with people, it helps free you from your feelings of isolation, alienation, and possibly even anxiety or fear.
We are familiar with service dogs for the blind. Dogs are used to sniff out drugs, and missing persons; they even serve side by side with Marines like my cousin. And similar to the wave of aging Baby Boomers America is facing, there is constantly news of puppy mills being shut down, and myriad rescue
societies abound with not enough “forever” homes for abandoned dogs. I would like to see a program that expands the use of service and therapy dogs to act as general companion animals for those aging in place.
As I stated in my introduction letter, my parents are on the young side of the Silver Tsunami. A
few years ago, they decided to take in an adult rescue dog, a miniature dachshund. The dog has brought
them inordinate joy, and to determine which party needs the other more these days would be a challenge.
She provides companionship, fosters a routine, demands their mobility, and alerts them to any mischief that
might be about with enthusiastic barking.
Many of the aging population could benefit from a companion animal. The necessity of walking a
dog provides visibility of the person in his community, therefore neighbors are aware of the person living in
his home. Isolation and loneliness can be side effects of aging, but having an animal to take care of can
help give a person’s life purpose and a routine that is beneficial to self care and activities of daily living.
Additionally, Americans are increasingly vitamin D deficient, but getting outside to walk a dog for just
fifteen minutes a day would aid in important vitamin D synthesis, a key to warding off illnesses such as
heart disease, osteoporosis, some cancers, depression, and insomnia.
A number of awardwinning
innovations for the elderly living in their homes incorporate monitoring
of some kind, either in the form of GPS associated with a wristwatch or cell phone, or webcams that a
health care provider can use to check in on the person regularly. Similarly, a GPS tracker in the dog’s
collar could provide valuable information like whether the dog and individual are walking regularly and
staying within a safe distance of each other. If data suggest the pair are not getting out regularly, a home
health care provider could check in on the person to ensure the pair’s safety and wellbeing.
Japan, itself facing a more significant aging population than the United States, has suggested the
use of robots for companionship, grocery shopping and lifting of heavy items within the home. I think if
we incorporated dogs into a community and home health care system, it would likely be more cost
effective, and less prone to technical errors, than providing the aging population of the United States with
robots. A 2012 Arizona State University1 study estimated that Medicare and Medicaid costs were almost
$1,600 lower per month for those aging in place compared to those living in nursing homes. The training of
service dogs for the blind requires an initial investment of about $20,000; however, when that cost is
averaged out over the life of the service dog and period of companionship, the costbenefit
ratio still results
in a net positive monthly savings. For example, if a companion dog provided service for 10 years, the
training cost would break down to about $170 per month. I foresee a program in which companion dogs
can act as first responders of sorts, by being with the person on a daily basis and encouraging healthy
habits of routine mental and physical activity. When combining significant savings from aging in place with
the relatively low cost of training the service dog, I believe future seniors’ health would come out ahead.
Once I have graduated, I would like to volunteer with my town’s Aging in Place program, and join
their efforts to make it safer and easier for people to stay in their homes. I would also like to volunteer
with my dog so that she might be a companion animal to those in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and
nursing homes. Once I am working and have gained this experience, I would love to work at developing
the type of program described here, and work with elders in a community health care setting.
1 Marek, K., Stetzer, F., Adams, S., Popejoy, L., & Rantz, M. (2012). Aging in place versus nursing home
care: comparison of costs to medicare and medicaid. Research in gerontological nursing, 5(2), 1239.
2 Service dog central. (2009, August 14). Retrieved from http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/410
Dana Larsen
Dana Larsen
(800) 809-0113
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