I’m an occupational therapist and worked at Horses Helping People (based near Mentmore, Buckinghamshire) on a project designed to help people with young onset dementia and their carers.
We realised that the needs of people with young onset are often very different to those of older people with dementia, and unfortunately there is a lack of service provision for younger people. We decided to do something to change this.
Setting up an activity group for younger people
We looked at the research on activity groups for people with young onset dementia and the results were really positive. The benefits of taking part in such a group can include increased well-being, less agitation, better sleep the night of a session, and peer-support for the people with young onset and their carers. With the evidence to back up our idea we spoke with local organisations which support people with dementia to find out whether there was a local need for this type of group. We were told there was, so we went ahead and applied for funding, the outcome was that our fully-funded activity group was entirely free for participants to attend.
Our group members had a choice of activities each week, including grooming the horses, watching them graze as a herd, feeding chickens, turkeys and geese, gardening in the vegetable beds and walking up the field to see the beautiful views from the top of the hill. Debbie, Dave and I, as well as our trained volunteers, all worked alongside the participants to support them in the activities. They were encouraged to take part, but there was no pressure at all.
What we larned from our experience
As we come to the end of our year-long, weekly activity and support group, it is a good time to reflect on what we have learned. The main thing to say is that for those who attended it was a great success, with laughter, discussion and contemplation in equal measure. Peer support seemed to be greater among carers than those with young onset, but everyone got on very well in the relaxed and easy-going atmosphere.
Our volunteers had a training session prior to the group starting and they said this was helpful to them as they had not worked with people with young onset before. The number of attendees was not as high as we had anticipated, but this meant we were able to provide an even higher level of one-to-one contact with each person. This worked well, but we would have liked to have seen more people. When we asked the main reasons for people not attending we found that it was mainly due to the family and work responsibilities of many carers. We realise these can make it difficult for people to get to the farm each week, so we are looking in to more transport options so that if we run a similar group in the future we can overcome this hurdle.
We have learned a lot from this project and now hope to run a more permanent support group at Horses Helping People. We will keep you informed of our plans and hope to see you at the next group. To close, here are just a few quotes from those who attended
'People ask me why I love coming down here. It's because I can be who I am and the people here are very nice and lovely.'
'I just love it here.'
"I feel like my confidence has improved since I've been coming here.'
'It's wonderful to see him coming out of his shell when he's grooming the horse.'
'He gets so much from this group - it's the best one he attends.'
UPDATE - September 2016
Horses Helping People is once again running a free weekly activity and support group that people with dementia can come to with a family member or friend. It runs every Tuesday morning and is based on our farm near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. Attendees will be able to choose from a variety of activities, including horse-grooming, chicken-feeding, walking in the countryside, gardening and helping with conservation work. We always find time for tea, coffee and conversation too - we're a welcoming, friendly bunch and we all love a good chat.
If you are interested in coming along or you would like to know more, please contact Caroline on 07748 963 888, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can download a leaflet about the group here.