Mental health is major issue in the UK and worldwide, and oftentimes is spoken about only in relation to young people and ‘millenials’. However, as the conversation widens and we become more enlightened, it becomes increasingly clear that mental health issues affect people regardless of age or gender, class or social background.
Loneliness, particularly among the elderly, is a serious problem that more often than not is ignored. Millions of elderly people suffer from a sense of feeling hopelessly lonely and consequently become isolated following the death of a partner, or because are less able than in their younger years. This can often lead to entrapment in a reclusive cycle leaving sufferers with an immense lack of motivation to bring themselves out of it.
Our lives are characterised by routines, which we rely upon every day in terms of both our work and social endeavours. We wake and sleep at certain times, and fill the space in between with habitual work, eating, and socialising, all based upon repetitive cycles. For the elderly, however, a lack of activity means lack of routine, which eventually brings about isolation.
For a long time, elderly people have relied upon pets for company, and we all know how beneficial pets can be in terms of mental health and wellbeing. Now, aside from the usual cats and dogs, a far more obscure animal has been found to be hugely beneficial in improving the mental health of elderly people.
Introducing… Therapy Hens!
Yes, you read that correctly… Hens are the new ‘thing’, and are working wonders on getting elderly people up and about.
Adopted by several care homes and shared living environments, the model works by instilling a sense of routine. Beginning early in the morning, those involved are totally responsible, and it is their job to deal with all aspects of caring for the hens. From feeding and watering, to collecting eggs and cleaning the pens, the model instills a sense of purpose, as the elderly people build a relationship with the hens over time.
One key aspect of the model is the sense of dependence, which ultimately works both ways. While the hens rely on humans to feed them, the people involved depend upon the sense of routine to characterise their day, and so invest more than simply carrying out the task – they develop bonds with the hens.
As elderly people in care homes are usually totally dependent on their carers, this sense of responsibility makes for an unusual subversion of traditional models of care. But, it seems to work, and demonstrates the extent to which animals can be beneficial both to our mental and physical health, lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
And That’s Not All…
Hens have also been used as an integral part of treatment for those living with dementia. The model works similarly, by giving patients a degree of responsibility and allowing them to engage with ‘normal’ routinised behaviour. This sense of responsibility also encourages patients to form relationships with the hens, giving them a new focus which is separate from their usual, everyday life.
The use of hens in therapy has spread outwards from the UK and is going global. Following a study of the scheme by the University of Northumbria, projects have been started as far as Australia, each playing a major role in enhancing many people’s ‘golden years’.
If you’re in a situation where you can’t have a pet, but are a real animal lover and could benefit from spending time with animals, why not join Tailster as a carer? Not only would you get to care for many people’s adorable pets while they’re away, you’d also get oodles of love and cuddles, and get paid for it at the end. What could be better?!