Quick, name one thing that would make your loved one more able to cope with living in a nursing home. If you said, "having a pet with him," then you'll want to keep reading.

When my father entered a nursing home 4 years ago, I had a recurrent fantasy. I would adopt a small, elderly dog - something about the size of a Pomeranian - and move it into his room, accompanied by a litter box. I would have been willing to go in everyday to change the litter. That's how much of a difference an old dog would have made for my old father in those last lonely years of his life. A dog on his lap in the wheelchair, sharing his meals from the tray, sleeping next to him through the night - would have made his life worth living.I didn't even ask the nursing home director. I was certain that state regulations wouldn't have allowed a pet, even in a private room. It turns out that I should have asked.

There is a developing trend worldwide in extended care facilities, sometimes called, "The Eden Alternative," where animals, plants and contact with children are part of the design. It's not for everyone but it makes enough of a difference for enough residents that Silverado Senior Living, which operates 17 facilities in California, Texas and Utah, spends about $600,000 annually caring for pets. Sometimes the resident brings a pet with him. More often, the facility has adopted the pet - usually a dog or cat - from a shelter.

"Having animals in our facilities reduces depression and anxiety and reduces the need for psychotropic medication by 35%," Silverado CEO, Loren Snook, told the USA Today.

It isn't for everyone. For many, it's money well spent.

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