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Will Horses Disrupt Assisted Living Memory Care?

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By Pam McDonald   

A little over 3 years ago Steve Moran introduced Connected Horse to the senior living industry through Senior Housing Forum. This groundbreaking research project and care approach for people living with dementia continues to flourish – growing in impact and scope.

The brainchild of dementia care advocates-consultants Nancy Schier Anzelmo and Paula Hertel, Connected Horse brings couples – a person with a dementia diagnosis and his or her care partner – together for a series of workshops that start in a barn or corral.

Living with Dementia Made Easier by Connected Horse

Facilitators guide participating couples through a series of non-riding activities in which they are encouraged to mindfully interact with horses and share their observations and insights.

To date, over 100 people have participated in Connected Horse multi-day workshops; the research continues through the University of California, Davis; community sites have started at Xenophon in Orinda: and another program is to launch in Alameda County, both in the East Bay area of California.

Strengthened Relationships and Health Benefits

As longtime equestrians, Nancy and Paula are well aware of the joys of companionship with horses and other pets as well as the health benefits derived by caring for and interacting with them.

Nancy says, “We wondered if working with horses in a progressive set of interactions focused on verbal and nonverbal communication, self-awareness, self-regulation, and mindfulness might enhance those skills for persons with dementia and their care partners.

Supporting Those with Young Onset Dementia

They decided to give special attention to those with young onset dementia. Paula says, “Currently an estimated 5.7 million Americans have a dementia diagnosis. Over 200,000 of these people are under age 65. Many of them and their families are wondering ‘now what’?”

Conducting Research and Sharing Positive Preliminary Results

A lack of scientifically validated evidence behind specific approaches to dementia care and support prompted Nancy and Paula to develop Connected Horse as both an intervention and a research project that meets the standards for scientific and academic studies.

Throughout their workshops, they measure specific physical and behavioral responses. Preliminary results of their research are very promising – virtually all participants scored significantly higher for social support, better sleep quality, and decreased anxiety and depression.

They’ve been invited to share their findings at a number of prestigious forums including Stanford’s School of Medicine Symposium, the Alzheimer’s Associations International Conference, American Society on Aging International, Dementia Action Alliance, Gerontological Society of America, and the American Academy of International Neurologists.

Supporting Connected Horse into the Future

Connected Horse is in the process of finalizing a how-to guide and training manual so additional equestrian sites can conduct the program. Currently, they’re making arrangement in Alameda County as well as exploring partnership opportunities in Marin and Sacramento Counties.

They urge colleagues running senior communities and programs in those areas to refer potential workshop participants to them.

In 2016, shortly after finishing the first workshops, they incorporated Connected Horse as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and began seeking grants and donations. They were astounded and extremely grateful for the $20,000+ in donations received from senior living colleagues and other supporters throughout the nation.

They continue to actively seek contributions at http://www.connectedhorse.com/support.php or via snail mail at Connected Horse Project, 460 Center Street, #6894, Moraga, CA 94570. Also, if designated by the purchaser, Connected Horse will receive 0.5% of the price of purchases made at the AmazonSmile Charity site.

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