Sadly, dementia is one of the most prevalent diseases among the elderly in our society and is also a disease without a cure or even very effective treatment options. And while billions of dollars go into treating and researching it every year, it often seems like we aren’t getting any closer to helping anyone. Dementia patients continue to suffer from not only memory loss but also loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
The HenPower program was developed in 2012 by EqualArts, a UK charity. It is currently being carried out at an elder care facility in a town called Bourke in New South Wales, Australia. Residents there feed, pet, and otherwise look after chickens, who then provide eggs which can function as food or income for the residents and their home.
The program is based on the idea that having responsibility and companionship can combat the emotional issues that often come with dementia. Many people believe animals are good for our emotional health, alleviating anxiety and depression. Studies have also shown that pets may have a physical effect on us, including reduced blood pressure, reduced heart rate, reduced cortisol, and increased serotonin. So why can’t farm animals help in the same way that pets do?
So far, the program has found that residents form bonds both with the chickens and with one another, a welcome relief in a community of dementia patients, where many struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation. Working alongside other residents has allowed these people to form friendships more easily, leading to reduced depression and improved well-being.
Lynn Dawson, the care coordinator at the facility in Bourke, says, “We’ve got a group of residents that are quite the individuals — they’re not natural mixers. So this is a way where we’ve got them all to engage together as a family, which is what we are: a family.”
We hope this animal therapy idea will catch on quickly among other elder care facilities and be able to develop even further into a viable source of income to help provide the care that these aging members of our society need.
If you’re interested in hearing more about creative ways people are improving life for the elderly, we recommend reading about Humanitas, a senior living facility that also provides free housing for students in exchange for a surprising service!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?