In the city of Bourke in New South Wales, Australia, you’ll find a dementia care facility that’s not quite like any other. Seed, coops, and dozens of small, fluffy chickens have taken up permanent residence alongside the dementia patients of the “HenPower” program offered by the Whiddon Group, an Australian elder care organization.
The HenPower program, first started in 2012 by the EqualArts charity in the UK, helps prevent the social isolation and emotional withdraw that most dementia patients experience by promoting social connectivity and emotional bonding through the caretaking of chickens.
Patients pet, feed, and look after the chickens daily, forming bonds with both the animals and the other patients they work alongside. The Henpower program, like other animal therapy programs, has been shown to reduce depression and loneliness, and improves the overall well-being of patients.
“We’ve got a group of residents that are quite the individuals — they’re not natural mixers. So this is a way where we’ve got them all to engage together as a family, which is what we are: a family,” shares Lynn Dawnson, Care Coordinator at the Whiddon Group’s care facility in Bourke.
The professional caregivers, at each of the Whiddon Group’s facilities that have enacted the HenPower program, sing its praises, citing the increased levels of patient interactivity and improvement in overall emotional state. And the patients agree: they love their fluffy friends. “As soon as they see you coming, they run from over there; they come racing over to say g’day!” exclaims one patient of the HenPower program."Compassionate caregivers, comfortable living areas, and chickens — everything a dementia care facility needs."
Animal therapy programs like HenPower are an incredible resource for dementia patients. Whether actively playing with a dog, cat, rabbit — no matter the companion — the loving, calming presence of an animal friend has tremendous positive effects for those with dementia.