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Four-legged friends provide well-being benefits to veterans living with dementia


To celebrate Dementia Awareness Week, military veterans living with dementia were thrilled to welcome Tickle – a delightful miniature Shetland pony owned by The Phoenix Children’s Foundation to The Royal Star & Garter Homes in Solihull. All residents at the Home were invited to meet Tickle and spend a wonderful morning in her company, with plenty of opportunity to give lots of care and affection to the tiny pony.


Tickle and her ‘petting’ animal counterparts are used as part of Animal Assisted Therapy. Research has shown that pets offer many health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and heart-rate, reducing the stress hormone cortisol and boosting levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin. Animal Assisted Therapy uses interaction with animals as a treatment to improve social, physical and emotional health. There is also evidence to suggest the therapy can reduce time spent under hospital care.


The notable benefits of using Animal Assisted Therapy for people living with dementia include greater social interaction and positive emotional expression. The individuals may gain comfort from the physical action of petting an animal; they enjoy giving affection as well as appreciating the unconditional affection the animal displays. There is also the potential to trigger fond memories of personal pets and the chance to reminisce about them.


Health Care Associate Lee explained how the visit of Tickle benefited the residents, “That pony was nice natured and he had such a calming effect on the residents. They reacted so well to him. And the smiles on their faces really shone. What a lovely morning.”


The Royal Star & Garter Homes has a long history of welcoming furry friends into our Homes. As far back as 1929, residents enjoyed interacting with the donkeys who would pull their wheelchairs up the steep hill back to the former Home in Sandgate. The donkeys proved so popular with one resident that he produced a linocut silhouette of a donkey pulling a wheelchair uphill for The Star & Garter Magazine.


The first reported use of animals as a form of therapy dates back to the early 19th Century when Florence Nightingale introduced small pets to wounded soldiers. She found that the pets eased distress among her patients. She called it “animal-companion therapy”. In the mid-1960s Dr Samuel Cordon’s research was credited with helping to stimulate a surging new interest in animal therapy. As a result of his studies and a host of research by others, animals have become commonplace visitors to nursing homes and other care environments.


Animal Therapy is a regular activity at both the Solihull and Surbiton Homes. Surbiton have three PAT (Pets as Therapy) dogs that make weekly visits to all the residents. We are also lucky enough to have a furry feline resident in Solihull. Biggles is a Ragdoll cat who likes to walk around the Home and provide comfort not only to residents with dementia, but the Home as a whole.