If I asked you to picture a horse, it is most likely you would also picture a rider…a jousting knight, a cowboy riding off into the sunset, a jockey circling the racetrack. Horses have long been our partners in work, travel, play, and creative pursuits. Now a new pilot program in the Bay Area draws upon this partnership to help those living with dementia.
According to a press release, the Connected Horse Project is “a a groundbreaking pilot study to explore how guided engagement with horses might help people living with dementia and their care partners.”
Designed for people living with young onset dementia and their primary care partners, this specialized workshop engages participants with horses and trained facilitators through non-riding activities and small group discussions. The program was the brainchild of CALA members Nancy Schier Anzelmo of Alzheimer’s Care Associates and Paula Hertel of Senior Living Consult. According to the press release:
They both are long-time advocates for quality care for those living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, and they both are avid equestrians.
These combined interests led them to create The Connected Horse Project. “We wanted to develop a program to support people living with young onset dementia and their care partners – spouses, adult children, other relatives, and friends – as they begin the journey of living with dementia,” Ms. Hertel said. “We thought that equine-guided activities focusing on mindfulness, self-awareness, and verbal and nonverbal communication might help.”
Horses are the most popularly used animals for therapy because they have the ability to work collaboratively and adapt to change. Horses also mirror the emotions of people working with them. They respond immediately, which gives immediate feedback.
“We hope our project,” Ms. Schier-Anzelmo said, “is a way the person with dementia and their care partner can learn coping skills, have an outlet for engagement, and overcome stress which can help them deal with the road that’s ahead. And that’s what we’ll be looking for in our outcomes – reduced anxiety and depression with increased coping skills.”
Others involved in the project are Jacqueline Hartman, co-founder and administrator of the Stanford Red Barn Leadership Program, who will work with Ms. Schier Anzelmo and Ms. Hertel to fine tune the curriculum for the project; Dolores Gallagher Thompson from Stanford University School of Medicine, who will serve as the project’s principal investigator; and Elizabeth Landsverk, M.D., principal of Elder Consult Geriatric Medicine in Burlingame, as the study’s Medical Advisor.
The Connected Horse Project is currently looking for people 70 years or younger with a diagnosis of young onset dementia and their primary care partners to participate in pilot workshops beginning next week. There is no cost to participate in the pilot, but participants will be expected to commit to 15 hours of interviews, surveys, and workshops within a 60-day period. If you are interested in participating or know someone who is, Contact the Connected Horse Project today.
Thank you to the many CALA members who have provided support and sponsorship for this pilot study! This innovative project is truly a community effort, and we look forward to learning more as it develops.