Horse Therapy May Help Those with Dementia

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HorseTherapy-300x199.jpegCould spending some time in the stables help ease some symptoms of dementia? A small-scale study conducted by Ohio State University suggests that horse therapy might play a role in putting dementia sufferers in better moods and making them more amenable to their caregivers.

The pilot study, which involved only 16 patients, was recently published in the journal Anthrozoos.  For the study, researchers studied volunteers selected from the National Church Residences Center for Senior Health in Columbus, Ohio. All of the participants had Alzheimer's.

A trip to the countryside

Eight of the patients were taken once a week to the Field of Dreams Equine Education Center, located in a countryside setting away from the urban Columbus area. Under appropriate supervision, they spent time with specially selected horses that had gentle natures and that had previously participated in therapeutic riding programs for children. The patients enjoyed significant interaction with the horses, grooming them, taking them for walks, and feeding them.

The other eight patients remained at the Center and went about their usual daily activities. This gave the researchers a "control group" so that they could study how the patients involved in the horse therapy may have been affected.


Using the Modified Nursing Home Behavior Problem Scale, which looks at such markers as how often patients fidget, resist care, become upset, or lose their temper, the researchers were able to determine that those clients who visited the horses were better behaved throughout the day than were those who did not.

The scientists also observed that participants in the horse therapy program became more physically active during their time with the horses. For example, some patients who never like to leave their wheelchairs asked to be helped to stand up, and many walked (assisted by a caregiver).

Although the study was not set up to measure any possible effects on memory, family members reported that often patients could relate much more about their visits to the horses than about what had happened at the Center.

As mentioned, this was a very small scaled pilot study and the results are not conclusive; however, it does indicate that equine therapy for those with dementia is an area that deserves more study.

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