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Oscar the Cat

Posted Jan 22 2009 6:45pm
The business of nursing homes and caregiving is a serious one. But you can't help but pause and maybe find the gallows humor in the following. Oscar, a two-year-old feline was adopted as a kitten and grew up in a third-floor dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, RI. The facility treats people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses.

Oscar seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours. His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they have less than four hours to live. “He doesn’t make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die,” said Dr. David Dosa in an interview. He describes the phenomenon in a poignant essay in Thursday’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one,” said Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University. After about six months, the staff noticed Oscar would make his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses. He’d sniff and observe patients, then sit beside people who would wind up dying in a few hours.

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