Oreo, spreading happiness and joy

Orleo the cat

How Therapy Cats Can Bring Countless Joys to Older Adults.

St Augustine Health Ministries, a nursing home in Cleveland, Ohio, has a very unusual 4-legged occupant, Oreo the cat. Previously a stray cat, Oreo has become a beloved member of the St Augustine family. Her main job is to keep everyone happy. The residents love having her around and enjoy taking photos of her, something which stimulates their creativity, while employees can’t help but smile when they see the black and white feline doing her rounds at the home.

Many of the residents had to leave their beloved pets behind when they moved into the home, one of the challenges facing elderly people who choose to make the transition into a care facility. Oreo the nursing home cat lends a personal touch to the environment, making residents feel more at home. Here are some of the many ways in which having a cat around can improve the quality of life of nursing home residents.

Mood improvement

Elderly people often become lonely and depressed and cats are ideal to help them overcome this loneliness by offering independent companionship, affection, entertainment and a sense of responsibility.  It’s a known fact that cats can lighten any mood and lend purpose to the lives of anyone who comes into contact with them.

Improved health

Cats generally require fairly little human care but the care they do require results in much-needed exercise among older people. Even those suffering from arthritis or with other physical limitations can care for cats without too much effort. Caring for a cat may call for new activities and routines that are important for both mental and physical stimulation. Caring for an animal is very rewarding and can be of great benefit to the overall health of the older generation, to the extent where it can help them live longer.

Why cats and not dogs?

  • Dogs also make for great pets but they require a lot more general care, training and exercise than cats do, things that elderly people are simply not always up to.  Cats are definitely a more suitable pet option for a nursing home environment for the following reasons:
  • Cats are generally more than happy to remain indoors for most part, unlike dogs.
  • Cats require approximately 20 minutes of playtime a day which does not necessitate the owner being mobile. Cats are more than capable of entertaining themselves with the help of kitty-friendly toys such as a ball of yarn or a wind-up mouse.
  • Cats enjoy sleeping on a human’s lap or bed and don’t require a special bed like most dogs prefer.

Pet ownership brings a great deal of joy to the elderly and should be encouraged when viable. The benefits, both emotional and physical, speak for themselves and in terms of companionship now one will be more loving and loyal than a much-cherished pet.

Photo by kitsanoo on Unsplash

Many thanks to Lucy Wyndham for sharing this story.

The Transformative Power of Art

Beach Huts

by Emma Harris

For the average person, being given the opportunity to create and express themselves might inspire a sense of freedom and productivity; it might also be something we take for granted. For a person struggling with dementia, perhaps with weakening senses or an inclination to recede into themselves, the power of art and creativity can be transformative to their quality of life.

Worldwide, people are beginning to understand the importance of creativity for those with dementia. In 2015, the Alzheimer’s Society produced a guide to encourage arts venues to become more dementia-friendly, offering extensive advice on how to do so. Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair of Arts Council England, says “There are 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia and, for many of them, the arts will be fundamental to enabling them to live well with their condition”.

James, Creative Minds
James, founder of Creative Minds, leading an art session.

James Cropper is someone who has grabbed this idea by the horns. James was caring for an older adult with learning disabilities when he discovered the power of arts and crafts.

“He just came alive,” says James after observing this individual’s love to create.

Inspired by how stimulating and energising art could be, Creative Minds was soon formed. Now, James and his community of experienced artists enhance the lives of thousands of people in care homes, placing emphasis on experimentation and allowing them the time and materials to create their own pieces of art work. And the benefit is not just emotional; as well as boosting self-esteem, James explains how creativity increases cognitive stimulation, improves dexterity and motor skills, and reduces stress and anxiety. Family members of residents have been impressed with the art sessions and notice a profound impact on the residents. Jane, a resident’s daughter, comments, “I believe these sessions provide far more to the individual than just an afternoon of fun”.

Creative Minds continue to develop their art sessions and have started encouraging the interaction of multiple generations by inviting primary school children to join in with art sessions at care homes. They aim to make art accessible to people of all ages and abilities, bringing their sessions to more and more locations.

Engage & Create, founded by Rachel Mortimer, uses art in a slightly different way. Using an iPad to display famous pieces of art, they facilitate discussions of art in care homes and encourage conversation amongst people with dementia. Rachel says that it is fascinating how people with dementia notice things in art that she has not seen before. Like James, she has observed first-hand how interaction with art can draw people out from their shells and improve well-being, not just during the discussions, but well beyond them.

In 2007, The MoMA (Museum of Modern Art, New York) set up an initiative to make art more accessible to people with Alzheimer’s, expanding their education programmes to assist health and art professionals in making art accessible to them. Today, they continue to encourage people living with dementia interaction with art through programmes (see link below).  Whilst a trip to New York to participate in one of MoMA’s dementia programmes may be a little tricky, Engage & Create bring discussions directly to the care home.

And they don’t stop there; Rachel’s ‘Ignite Programme’ offers a tailored training package to care home staff so that they themselves can lead discussions about art work, supported along the way by the Engage & Create team. An occupational therapist told the team, “that was one of the best training sessions I’ve ever had … it’ll change the way I work with people with a diagnosis of dementia forever.”

If you want still more proof of the power of art, take a look at this recent study on dementia and creativity, ‘Dementia and Imagination’. The project was studying how visual arts can impact people with dementia. As the research only ended in December 2016, full findings are yet to be published but the initial reactions are undeniably positive. Participants commented on the soothing environment and the sense of achievement they felt; findings also indicated that family members and carers were affected positively as the art sessions allowed them to get to know the residents better through their creations.

All of these ventures focus on what people living with dementia can do rather than what they can’t do. In turn, the people living with the condition learn to focus on these things as well, nurturing an environment of positivity, colour and creativity which has the power to significantly improve their well-being.

If you are aware of an organisation that should be included in our list of resources, please email the details to info@mycarematters.org.

Resources:

Creative Minds Offer practical art sessions across England

Engage & Create Offer art discussion sessions and training packages for staff, including The Engage & Create Ignite Programme

Creative Buddy is a social enterprise that provides mobile arts and crafts sessions for care/residential homes, day centres and community venues in Sussex.

Dementia and Imagination A recently completed scientific study on the benefit of art for individuals with dementia

Arts4Dementia  develops arts programmes to empower, re-energise and inspire people with early-stage dementia and carers through challenging artistic stimulation, to help them live better for longer in their own homes.

Equal Arts Offer training sessions for care staff and run projects encouraging creativity amongst people living with dementia

MoMA Information on how to make art accessible to people with dementia.

Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friendly Arts report A guide for arts venues on how to become dementia-friendly

 

 

 

 

Pets as Therapy

The idea that pets can play a therapeutic role is not new: the charity Pets as Therapy was founded over 30 years ago and 4,500 dogs and 108 cats now visit over 130,000 people every week. That’s a staggering half million bedside pet visits each year, giving both young and old the pleasure and chance to cuddle and talk to them. What is more recent, however, is researchers’ attempts to understand why this can have such a positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing.

“Pets hold a special place in many people’s hearts and lives, and there is compelling evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that interacting with pets can be beneficial to the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of humans,” says Lori Palley, DVM, of the MGH Center for Comparative Medicine. “Several previous studies have found that levels of neurohormones like oxytocin – which is involved in pair-bonding and maternal attachment – rise after interaction with pets, and new brain imaging technologies are helping us begin to understand the neurobiological basis of the relationship, which is exciting.” More details of Lori’s research and report can be accessed here.

The Alzheimer’s Society touched on this in their Living with Dementia magazine back in 2011, quoting Jane Fossey, a clinical psychologist and a trustee of the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS), which promotes the health and social benefits of human-animal interactions. “A number of small-scale studies suggest that introducing animals into care homes can have positive effects for people with dementia. For example, spending time with visiting animals has been shown to reduce blood pressure and anxiety, and improve social interaction and sleeping patterns. It can also reduce the late-afternoon restlessness that can affect people with dementia.”

No wonder then, that no less than 7,721 care homes in the UK declare themselves to be pet friendly (see the full list on the carehome website) with some organisations placing animals centre stage in their daily life. In Eden Alternative nursing homes, for example, dogs, cats and birds live among and interact with the residents, “lessening their sense of loneliness and boredom”.

Meet Nala the Teacup Poodle, lifting the spirits of residents at a care home in Minnesota.

The Spark of Life approach, which has been adopted by a number of care homes in USA, Scandinavia, Australia and Europe, claim that “the interaction that occurs with an animal companion diffuses loneliness and gives the person with dementia a reason to live and get up in the morning. Caring for a pet automatically enables the person with dementia to be needed and useful, gives them the opportunity to care, they have someone to love and who loves them back unconditionally, and their self-esteem is boosted as a proud pet owner.”

So pets can play a valuable role in care homes, either in the form of a visiting therapy or as permanent residents. But Dementia Dog are extending the role of ‘a man’s best friend’ further still. Every year, 25% of the puppies bred to be a guide dog for the blind fail to pass the rigorous tests, but there now may be an alternative role for them. Dementia Dog aims to pair people in the early phases of dementia who live with a full time carer with a dog trained specifically to assist them in their day to day lives.

The dogs provide at least three assistive tasks to their partner, such as support for daily living routines (waking, eating, getting exercise and going to the toilet), reminders (such as prompts to take medicine, drink fluids and other user identified regular tasks), or soft support issues (such as companionship and acting as an icebreaker in social situations).

Then there are projects that harness the benefits of other animals, such as HenPower, a heart-warming project which caught the attention of the media recently. A 12-month study of the project by Northumbria University found HenPower is: improving the health and wellbeing of older people, reducing depression and loneliness in older people and reducing the need for antipsychotic medication. Pippa Kelly’s excellent blog on HenPower provides more detail.

Ann Napoletan’s experience sums it up beautifully, so she should have the last word: “Anyone who owns a dog or cat can attest to the beauty of their unconditional love, and animals often forge a special connection with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. My mom had a cat for a number of years, and their bond was inexplicable.  Holly wore a perpetually annoyed expression on her feline face and loathed most humans, yet she never left my mom’s side; as much as she detested being picked up, that darn cat would even let Mom carry her around like a rag doll. It never failed to amaze me. Somehow Holly knew that her special person needed a special kind of love.”

Photo by Joel J. Martínez on Unsplash

Further contacts:

Therapaws, North and West London. “Therapaws is a visiting animal therapy programme delivered by The Mayhew Animal Home. We recognise the benefits of taking animals into the care setting to engage with older people, encouraging social interaction to promote emotional and physical wellbeing. We specialise in visits to people with dementia and to palliative care centres. Our volunteers and their dogs go on regular visits to care homes, day centres, hospices and hospitals across North and West London.”

Owls About Town, Selsey West Sussex. “Our ‘Wise Owl’ experience is delivered by the calmest and most tolerant of Owls. We have found these sessions to be particularly beneficial to older people and those suffering with memory issues, such as Dementia. These experiences are very touching at times, seeing the joy on peoples faces when they interact with such majestic creatures.”

Wings of Freedom visit care homes and offer a very personal experience for everyone, giving a real life skill view of all things Owls and Birds of prey. For those people who may not wish to join in or get to the group, they do walkabouts to rooms.

For trips out, what better way of getting back to nature and into the fresh air than visiting your local Care Farm? Care Farming UK have a list of suitable venues near you, and award-winning journalist Pippa Kelly has written in interesting article on the subject of care farms and dementia.

The Donkey Sanctuary “Our team of specially trained donkeys offer an outreach service visiting hospices and local residential homes including those dealing with dementia care. The donkeys prove to be a great stimulation and provide valuable assisted therapy to residents… The donkeys also love the warmth and affection from vulnerable residents so the animal assisted therapy goes both ways!” You will find Donkey Sanctuaries in Sidmouth, Belfast, Birmingham, Derbyshire, Ivybridge, Leeds and Manchester.

The power of music

Updated January 2020.

Why does music have so much power? In a fascinating article the physician, neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, suggested this is a question that goes to the heart of being human. We turn to music, he said, because we need it, because of its ability to move us, to induce feelings and moods, states of mind.

We may still not know why, but those who work with people with autism or frontal lobe syndromes, and particularly with people with dementia, have recognised the power that music has to generate an emotional response, familiar music perhaps evoking memories of earlier events in people’s lives that cannot be reached any other way.

Research undertaken by the University of Iowa confirms the relevance of this for people living with dementia. UI researchers showed individuals with Alzheimer’s disease clips of sad and happy movies. Five minutes later, most were unable to recall any factual information about the films, and one person didn’t even remember watching any movies. Yet these people experienced sustained states of sadness and happiness.

The researchers concluded: “The fact that forgotten events can continue to exert a profound influence on a patient’s emotional life highlights the need for caregivers to avoid causing negative feelings and to try to induce positive feelings.”

Attempts to ensure an individual’s emotional wellbeing, therefore, should be at the heart of all care, and music is increasingly recognised as a powerful tool to assist in this aim. Of course, it has to be remembered that everyone is unique and what works for one person will not be appropriate for the next. A carer who likes nothing better than listening to hours of punk should not assume that those in their care feel the same way, equally, don’t assume that there isn’t a punk enthusiast amongst them either!

If we are looking for something to lift our mood, classical music is best, even if it’s not normally your favourite listening, according to Dr Mike Lowis. ‘In order to activate both sides of the brain, music needs to be complex so pop music and anything with a heavy beat doesn’t usually work,’ he says. (His study of peak experiences found that Wagner was more uplifting than Mozart.)

However, the inspirational and emotional story told in the American film Alive Inside, winner of the Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, would suggest that the true power of music is realised when particular tracks or genres are used to trigger memories and restore a sense of ‘self’, even in those with profound memory loss.

A quick story on how my husband continued to enjoy music as he neared the end of his life in a care home, rarely speaking, unable to do anything for himself, profoundly confused. As I prepared to say goodbye after one of my daily visits I asked him if he’d like any music on. He didn’t respond so I saw that a CD of one of his favourite musicians, Eric Clapton, was in the player and pressed the Play button, only to hear Geoff loudly lament “Not again!” as the sound of Clapton’s wonderful guitar playing filled the room. I had clearly not been the only lazy person in his room that day! It takes more than popping a CD into the player for music to work its magic. 

Fortunately, there are a growing number of organizations, campaigns and resources dedicated to making music an integral part of dementia care. We’ve included links to some of these below.

 

Resources on the use of music in dementia care:

Read more about Alive Inside and the work of Music and Memory, watch the trailer and purchase the DVD here.

Organisations that offer live music experiences:

Thanks for the Memory uses the power of music to create ‘Memory Moments’ and was established by Tim Ashcroft and his wife Renee, to help those living with memory loss or dementia and to help their families. They put on concerts for those with dementia and raise money to help other groups working with dementia patients and their families.

Lost Chord is a Charity dedicated to transforming the lives of those living with dementia and their families, using music in residential homes across the UK. 

Singing for the Brain is a service provided by Alzheimer’s Society.

Music in Hospitals Scotland is a registered charity and aims to improve the quality of life for people of all ages in care through the provision of professional live music. Concerts take place in hospitals, hospices, care homes, day centres and special needs schools, bringing the benefits of live music to people who need it most.

Resources for finding recorded music and creating playlists:

The Music for Dementia 2020 campaign shares best practice, research and music-based activities for people living with dementia. Their latest initiative urges people with dementia, their families and carers to build music playlists and offers free guides to help. They also offer a Musical Map for Dementia to help people with dementia find music related events and services in their area.

Playlist for Life has a vision: that every person with dementia has access to a unique playlist of their life, to help unlock who they are. Playlist for Life encourages families and caregivers to create a playlist of personally meaningful music on an ipod for people with dementia.

BBC Music Memories is a website designed to use music to help people with #dementia reconnect with their most powerful memories.You can use its databases to find favourite music – from classical to pop, to TV themes and even football chants – and create personal playlists.

Reminiscence Radio creates programmes featuring music from the 1940s-1970s, curated for people with short-term memory issues, designed to create a safe, reassuring place.

Information about the use and benefits of music in dementia care:

Dementia through Music: A Resource Book for Activities Providers and Care Staff, edited by Catherine Richard. An accessible guide to music activities for people with dementia for use by activity leaders, care staff and therapists, drawing on the expertise of people regularly using music in their work. Published 2020.  

The British Association for Music Therapy is a good source for further information.

The fabulous infographic from 3SpiritUK, the health and social care training company, contains a wealth of information on why and how music can help in the care of people with dementia.Click here for further information

Live Music Now and the University of Winchester worked in partnership with MHA (Methodist Homes) and The Orders of St John Care Trust to investigate the impact of music on residents, staff and the general care home environment. This has led to the report “LIVE MUSIC IN CARE”, which was published in 2019. The report finds that, “Carefully delivered music can provide significant benefits for older people, care staff and care settings, contributing to person-centred care. We recommend that regular participatory music programmes be considered essential for all UK care homes.”

“Music can soothe, stimulate and bring to mind long-forgotten memories” say Age UK in their information sheet on Dementia and Music.

5 reasons why music boosts brain activity, from Alzheimers.Net

How Singing Can Help People With Dementia, from Active Minds

Personal experiences and first hand accounts:

Pippa Kelly, a writer and campaigner on dementia and elderly care, often writes about music and dementia on her blog. She describes her personal experiences of witnessing the power of music to connect people even when their dementia is very advanced. She also features people, organisations and projects that  enhance the lives of people with dementia and their families through music.

Full time carer for his Mum, Martyn has written about Dementia, Music and Emotions.

In this clip from Women’s Hour on Radio 4, Agnes Houston shares her personal story about music, marriage dementia and hyperacusis (a condition that affects how you perceive sounds). It’s a powerful story and highly recommended listening. 

If you wish to recommend a resource for this page, please email feedback@carechartsuk.co.uk.