Monday, April 11th, 2016
Not being able to remember things that were once familiar can be frightening, especially for people in their 40s with early onset dementia, said Nancy Schier Anzelmo, a gerontology professor at California State University, Sacramento. As people lose the ability to recall information or perform certain tasks, they may become depressed and anti-social.
“If someone’s on that trajectory, they become more isolated,” Schier Anzelmo said. “They might forget they’re meeting their friends for coffee, and the friends stop calling because they get annoyed. The person living with the disease needs to feel empowered – not that this is a downward trajectory, but that they still have purpose and focus. Maybe that means doing something they never tried before.”
Schier Anzelmo and senior living consultant Paula Hertel helped found the Connected Horse Research Study, a collaboration between Stanford University and the nonprofit group Connected Horse, which was founded to raise money for the study. The goal is to build confidence in people with dementia and improve relationships between them and the loved ones caring for them.
The person living with dementia gets to see what it feels like to care for another being, and a loved one gets a better understanding of the importance of providing care, Hertel said.
“It’s a nonjudgmental, mutual respect with the horses,” Hertel said. “When care partners learn to break down those dynamics for themselves, they also start to become better care partners.”