Horses May Improve Quality of Life for Alzheimer’s Patients

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerMay 12, 2014

5.2 million Americans live with Alzheimer‘s disease. There is no cure for the neurodegenerative disease but researchers are always looking for improve the quality of life of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. A new study from The Ohio State University shows that spending time with horses can actually help improve the quality of life of people with dementia by helping them both mentally and physically.

Equine Therapy and Dementia

While the main symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients revolve around memory loss, the disease can also bring significant personality changes making normally happy people irritable or withdrawn. In a recent study published in Anthrozoos, researchers from Ohio State partnered with the National Church Residences Center for Senior Health to study the effects of equine therapy on the mood of dementia patients.

The researchers worked with 16 patients divided into two groups, with one group visiting the Field of Dreams Equine Education Center once a week to spend time with the horses, and one not visiting the center.

In one month, researchers noticed significant differences between the two groups. The group that visited the therapy center could be seen smiling,  laughing and speaking with the horses, and the horses’ positive effects on the group lasted late into the day. Study author Holly Dabelko-Schoeny said, “The experience immediately lifted their mood and we saw a connection to fewer incidents of negative behavior.”

Other Factors Contributing To Results

Although the effects of the horses on Alzheimer’s patients’ moods were clearly seen, more research needs to be done to establish the direct correlation between the two. For instance, the group that visited the horses spent more time outside in a peaceful rural environment than the group that did not. Also, they were more physically active during their time with the horses than the group who did not receive equine therapy. Both factors could have significantly contributed to the improved mood of patients.

The study does not proclaim to be a treatment method for patients, but stresses the importance of helping dementia patients in the moment. Dabelko-Schoeny said,

“Our focus is on the ‘now.’What can we do to make them feel better and enjoy themselves right now? Even if they don’t remember it later, how can we help in this moment?”

Have you or a loved one had a positive experience with equine therapy? We’d love to hear your story. Please share your experience with us in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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