Dementia Patients Assisted By Equine Therapy

The University of California Davis School of Medicine, the Connected Horse and the Center for Equine Health have joined forces on a groundbreaking research program that focused on equine therapy use in both patients that had been diagnosed with dementia and their caregivers.

Claudia Sonder, a veterinarian at the Center for Equine Health, recognized that equine therapy has helped many populations; she wanted to see if it could help connect those with dementia and their caregivers.

The Connected Horse, which focuses on equine-guided work for people affected by dementia, recruits people with dementia or those with mild cognitive impairments, along with their caregivers. Those taking part in the program attend 5-hour workshops that include activities like grooming and leading; awareness practices; and discussion groups. The end goal of the program is to enhance interpersonal relationships and communication between caregiver and affected person, and reduce stress.

To measure burden, stress, mood and social support for the caregiver and the patient, each was administered a standardized test before the program began. They will take the same test at the conclusion of the study. The team hypothesizes that the program would have a positive impact on both the patient and the caregiver. A formal evaluation will take place at the end of the year when the study concludes.

If both the caregiver and the patient approach a horse calmly and positively, it’s more likely that the horse will respond to what they are asking of him. If one of the people is feeling concern or fear, the horse will mirror the emotion and most likely not do what is being asked of him. The horse’s reaction allows both the caregiver and the patient to read cues in the environment and learn how to communicate with each other. Using the horse as a tool also translates to the relationship between the caregiver and the patient, teaching the caregiver both patience and understanding.

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