New England Journal of Medicine has an article about Oscar, a hospice cat at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, R.I., who 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 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.
The 2-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. The facility treats people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses.
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.
Oscar is better at predicting death than the people who work there, said Dr. Joan Teno of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home and is an expert on care for the terminally ill.
No one’s certain if Oscar’s behavior is scientifically significant or points to a cause. Teno wonders if the cat notices telltale scents or reads something into the behavior of the nurses who raised him.
Oscar recently received a wall plaque publicly commending his “compassionate hospice care.”