A quiet woman who had advocated for the underserved until the effects of her dementia forced her retirement, Maria walks slowly into the barn with her care partner. Axle, a large bay horse, pops his head over the stall door to greet the strangers. Maria approaches Axle, who is at least 10 times her weight.
The workshop facilitator, who knows the power of the human-horse connection, brings them closer together. In only a few steps they are face to face. Axle leans sideways to rest his head on Maria’s shoulder and breathes.
The barn is silent. Maria is motionless. Then she smiles and, for that moment, it is okay that she can no longer speak.
This is the power of The Connected Horse Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by dementia. It was founded by two of CALA’s board members, Paula Hertel with Senior Living Consult, and Nancy Schier Anzelmo with Alzheimer’s Care Associates. We have shared news and information about Connected Horse here on the blog and in the CALA News & Views magazine. And we are happy to share more!
According to a press release, the University of California, Davis’ School of Medicine, together with its School of Veterinarian Medicine, embarked on a research project together with Connected Horse. The study, which was recently completed, explored how facilitated engagement with horses might improve the quality of life for people affected by dementia, especially those with an earlier onset diagnoses and their care partners.
This expanded research will provide Connected Horse with valuable data to be added to results from two pilot studies in equine guided support completed over the past 12 months in conjunction with Stanford University’s School of Medicine and the Stanford Red Barn Leadership program.
The question that Hertel and Schier Anzelmo sought to answer was: How can people with dementia remain engaged in life and share new experiences with others? They launched a groundbreaking pilot in 2015 that included volunteers of persons living with a dementia diagnosis and their care partners; the first group met in November 2015, the second in May 2016. Initial research results were very promising. Virtually all the scores were significantly higher in social support, better sleep quality and decreased anxiety and depression.
The UC Davis research is a comparative project that utilized a similar process, as well as measuring the response on the horses. In addition to continuing their research, the group is developing a how-to guide and searching for other equestrian sites and partners to implement the Connected Horse program for those affected by dementia.