26 Jan 2022

How Can Horses Help Those With Dementia?


How horses can help those with dementia

Looking to help improve the lives of people living with dementia?  In this article, Katie Allen-Clarke from the equine experts at Horse and Country explains how spending time with horses can be beneficial for people living with the condition, and answers some of the most common questions on the topic.

If you know anyone living with dementia, you'll understand just how big an impact the long-term condition can have on their life. It can affect so many different abilities that people rely on to live their lives comfortably, from movement and memory to communication. While there is not yet a cure for the syndrome, there are a number of ways to ease the symptoms and improve the lives of people living with dementia. One particular activity which you may not have considered before is equine therapy.

Read on to find out the benefits of this alternative therapy and discover the answers to frequently asked questions on the topic.

Increases physical activity levels
Equine therapy is great for everyone's physical health, but especially for those living with dementia. Horseback riding allows for people with the condition to build both their strength and balance, two things which dementia can severely impact. With practice, improving these physical aspects can help people with dementia maintain good physical health for longer than they would otherwise.
The great thing about equine therapy is that it's suitable for people of all abilities. Patients who don't feel comfortable with riding the horse don't have to, but they can still get some physical benefits from the experience . Tasks like grooming and leading the horse increase the physical activity levels of those with dementia, which comes with a number of benefits such as reducing the risk of falls and improving sleep quality (Alzheimer's Society).

Encourages collaboration and communication
Equine therapy requires a significant amount of collaboration, not just with the horse itself, but with a horse handler and therapist too. Practicing collaboration is a great way to help dementia patients see the importance of listening and compromising, which may in turn make them more willing to receive care.
Working with other people is also a great way for dementia patients to practice their communication skills, which often suffer as a result of their condition. Plus, working with horses has been found to improve nonverbal communication skills too (ScienceDaily). This could help patients communicate their needs clearly to their carers, leading to a better quality of life overall.

Builds social skills
Practicing communication and collaboration in equine therapy isn't just beneficial for working with carers, but it helps people with dementia improve their social skills too. This is important, as people with the condition often struggle with socialisation due to a lack of interest in mixing with others and difficulty in communication.
Horses are great companions for many of us, but especially for people with dementia. Practicing nonverbal communication skills with horses shows us the importance of communicating in the right tone, as horses are far more likely to respond to people with a calm and approachable manner than those who are stressed and agitated.

Boosts confidence
It's relatively common for people living with dementia to struggle with their self-esteem (Alzheimer's Society). This can be due to a number of reasons, including the loss of control and independence which comes with the condition, as well as the stigma attached to dementia. Fortunately, equine therapy is a great way to boost confidence and self-esteem.
Working with horses requires those with dementia to really put their leadership skills to the test. This in turn gives them more control and authority, which they may be missing from their life. And when they make a decision that pays off well, this will provide them with a great confidence boost and give them more belief in themselves and their abilities.


Three frequently asked questions on equine therapy

It's clear that equine therapy has numerous benefits for people living with dementia.  But before you commit to this therapy, you will likely want to find out more about it.  To help you learn some essential information, here are the answers to three of the most commonly asked questions on the subject.

1, What happens in equine therapy?

There are a number tasks for a dementia patient to carry out in an equine therapy session, including grooming, leading, and feeding the horse. In many sessions patients will get the opportunity to ride the horse, but this is completely up to the individual and there is no pressure to do so. Once these tasks are completed (usually with the aid of a horse handler), the patient will get the opportunity to discuss the ups and downs of the session with a therapist.

2, Can equine therapy improve mental health?

Sadly, both depression and anxiety are common in people living with dementia (Alzheimer's Society). But the good news is that equine therapy can be beneficial for people's mental health. This form of therapy is increasingly being used for people living with mental health conditions, and has been found to be beneficial for depression, anxiety, addiction, and more (WebMD).

3, Is equine therapy evidence based?

There have been a number of studies proving the benefits of equine therapy for people living with dementia. One study found that equine therapy reduced disruptive behaviour in dementia patients, and another piece of research from The Ohio State University discovered that spending time with horses can ease the symptoms of dementia.


Although there is not yet a cure for dementia, there are a number of ways to make the lives of people living with the condition easier.

Equine therapy is a great way to relieve the symptoms of dementia, so if your loved one is living with the condition, consider giving this promising therapy a go.


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