A Place for Mom

2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist Krystal Culler

Caitlin Burm
By Caitlin BurmMay 1, 2014
2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist Krystal Culler

A Place for Mom is proud to announce the finalists of our annual $1,000 scholarship for advancement in the field of gerontology. The finalists will be narrowed down to five winners to be awarded with a financial donation. Applicants were required to write a compelling essay about senior care innovation in preparing for America’s “Silver Tsunami” of aging Baby Boomers.

2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist Krystal Culler

Congratulations to Krystal Culler, 2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist! Read Krystal’s essay below and comment with why you feel she deserves to be one of the five scholarship award recipients.

Krystal’s Essay

What innovations in the senior care industry need to happen in order to care for our aging population?

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Innovations in the senior care industry can combine research and knowledge from interdisciplinary fields of study to address the aging population and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). One suggestion for the senior care industry would be the use of companion dogs for older adults and specifically adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The goal of companion dogs is to increase independence and well being for an older adult which would include companionship offered by the dog, improved mobility, and a range of responses from the dog that are specifically trained for symptoms for adults. Dogs can also be trained to perform tasks in the domains of perceptual (guidance and balance), physical (item retrieval) and emotional/behavioral symptoms (lap, touch, snuggle) that can all be individualized for each older adult. Research found that residents with AD in private homes had less anxiety, mood disorders, and decreased verbal aggression if they had habitual connection with a companion animal.

Recently in July 2013, Scotland has incorporated the use of dementia dogs as part of their Alzheimer’s disease initiative. These types of dogs can be trained to do various tasks based upon an individual’s specific needs which can include the following: bringing their owner’s medications, assisting with walking, monitoring routine maintenance (sleeping and eating), enacting community activities and engagement, promoting companionship, and supporting reassurance in new social situations. Scotland’s first two dementia dogs were placed in the summer of 2013 with adults with dementia and the researchers state, “We really believe that the dementia assistance dog could make a significant contribution to the Government’s National Dementia Strategy.”

Overall, dogs can be utilized to do tasks that caregivers may be providing for older adults. Although the dogs may require care in return, they would require minimal devices and adaptations to the home in order to be cared for appropriately. For example, automatic feeders and water bowls and be utilized to help adults care for the dogs. There are many assistive devices and technology that can be employed for dog to be acclimated into the home of the adult for a minimal cost. Research suggests the benefits of owning a pet outweighed the costs and a significant importance was the security benefit provided by dogs in comparison to other pets.

Furthermore, research puts forward that owning a pet, in particular a dog, can be a collaborator to primary care physicians to support well-being for older adults on different levels including aspects of physical and emotional health. According to Pet Partners, seniors with dogs go to the doctors less and dogs are therapeutic and preventative against everyday stress. Dogs can promote a regular exercise routine for the older adult and recent research has revealed that older adults who walk dogs are more likely to engage in a regular exercise routine.  Dogs are a major factor of conversations with passersby and companion animals readily elicit friendly responses. In conclusion, man’s best friend is an innovative way to support our aging population through proper training, health promotion, and interventions.

What contributions will you make to solve this problem?

Education, advocacy, public awareness, and health promotion on the use of man’s best friend and the possibilities that can be explored to enable older adults to remain safely in their homes for a longer duration of time can offer a new perspective for resources that can be utilized to serve older adults in the senior care industry. The major contributions that I can currently make to solve this problem is to spread awareness about the use of companion dogs for older adults and individuals with dementia through my current leadership opportunities as a co-convener for the lifelong disabilities special interest group of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA), national task force group (NTG) for intellectual disabilities and dementia member and active role in creating the training curriculum. I will be working towards developing a resource on this special topic area that will be made available within the NTG training curriculum. I can also promote advocacy on this topic area through presentations at national, state, and local conferences, as well as, current volunteer work and teaching opportunities.

View and read all of the 2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship finalists and congratulate them on making it closer to the scholarship prize.

Did Krystal’s essay inspire you? Don’t forget to share your thoughts below.

Caitlin Burm
Caitlin Burm

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