Stories tagged nursing home

Jul
26
2007

Scent of death?: A Providence, R.I., cat, (not pictured above) that lives at a nursing home has an uncanny ability to find and curl up by residents who are about to die. (Photo by grafwilliam)
Scent of death?: A Providence, R.I., cat, (not pictured above) that lives at a nursing home has an uncanny ability to find and curl up by residents who are about to die. (Photo by grafwilliam)
This has been the main topic of side conversations of floor staff members at the museum today.

Have you heard about this cat in a Providence, R.I., nursing home that has correctly identified the last 25 patients who were to die there?

Oscar, the cat, makes the rounds of the nursing home each morning, just like the medical staff. Some mornings, Oscar will then slip into a room, curl up next to an ailing patient. Within several hours, that patient dies. The cat is so accurate, nursing home staff members will call the family of a resident being visited by Oscar so that they can be present when their loved one passes away.

“He seems to understand when patients are about to die,” says Dr. David Dosa. “Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one.”

Before you get too creeped out by this, doctors at the nursing home say that most of the people Oscar visits are so sick, they’re not aware that he is there. And families, for the most part, seem to be pleased that their loved one got some special attention from Oscar before the death.

Is there science behind this phenomenon? After all, there are dogs that can sniff out oncoming epileptic seizures and there are rats that can sniff out buried land mines.

One theory is that Oscar picks up scents or reads something into the behavior of the nurses who raised him in being able to determine if a patient is going to die. One researcher points out that the only way to know for sure is to do a study of Oscar’s behavior when someone is dying compared to what he does when people aren’t dying.

What do you think is going on here? Share your thoughts with other Science Buzz readers.

Being one never to have a lot of trust in cats, especially after seeing the movie "Cats and Dogs, I’d like that investigation to go a little deeper. Cats can be a lot more devious than appears on the surface.