There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but certain methods and practices seem to ease the symptoms and prolong some memory function. Equine therapy is one such method. When you think of caring for seniors with Alzheimer’s, the idea of working with horses may not be on the list of things that come to mind. However, studies have shown that the time spent with horses is good for the patients. Below are some observations and theories as to why.
Breathing fresh air
There are a number of variables involved with the benefits of equine therapy. Perhaps the fresh air and sunshine patients get while outside with the horses plays into their health. Equine therapy helps to relieve certain symptoms of depression and anxiety in the broader population as well as in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin-D, absorbed from the sunshine, has also been linked to reducing those symptoms. There’s just something special about being in the fresh air.
Regardless of an individual’s age or diagnosis, it’s nice to feel needed. When patients with Alzheimer’s learn that they are responsible for grooming, feeding, and walking the horses, they feel a sense of purpose that may have diminished in other areas of life. People tend to meet the expectations placed on them. If there are no expectations, there is very little motivation. Equine therapy places realistic expectations of people who need to feel needed.
Interacting with animals
Of course, the horses themselves play into the therapy, too. Animals don’t judge memory or physical prowess. They don’t write people off. They don’t grow frustrated by hearing the same story over and over again. If you feed them and brush them, they will come to love you. Horses are able to provide an element of senior companionship that other caregivers cannot. In an equine therapy situation, the horse is controlled by the patient rather than the other way around. When so much in life is feeling out of control, having a large, powerful animal obey your commands is empowering.
Something to talk about
The benefits of the therapy last longer than the time spent with the horses. Studies show that patients who participated in equine therapy showed improved short-term memory. For individuals who may not remember whether they’ve eaten the previous meal to tell stories of their time with horses earlier that day shows the power of the experience. Having something so exciting to share also encourages those seniors to be more socially interactive, another beneficial activity for those with symptoms of a dementia-related illness.
Learning something new
The idea of someone with Alzheimer’s learning a new skill may seem odd, but any chance to create connections in their brain should be taken. Patients need not have had any previous experience with horses or on a farm to benefit from equine therapy. The hands-on learning exercises the brain in ways that may be more stimulating than working a crossword puzzle or watching a game show.