September aims to raise awareness surrounding the stigma of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Our rangers often visit care homes and care settings (accompanied by their animal team), so this is an important topic for us to shed some light on!
Firstly, what is Alzheimer’s and Dementia?
Dementia is a general term for losing memory and other cognitive abilities. Alzheimer’s is a specific brain disease that is the most common form of dementia.
Most people will know someone in their lives that has been affected, and as you can imagine, it is challenging; the symptoms massively interfere with daily life.
How can we play our part?
Our rangers are all ‘Dementia Friends’ and trained on how to communicate and help in the best way they can. Today we will offer advice when communicating with someone with dementia and how we execute these top tips in our visits!
OUR TOP TIPS
1) Be Patient
A simple task for you will take longer for someone with dementia. It can be frustrating for the individual, so allow breaks and encourage them. At ZooLab, lots of our animals are considered weird and wonderful! In a care setting, we spend much time one-on-one chatting about what we’ve brought for them to see! If there’s any uncertainty, encouraging them to have a look with us instead of holding and allowing time for questions works very well.
2) Involve the Person
Allow them to do as much as possible, and don’t step in and do it all for them. This allows independence and may reduce frustration if you are ready and available to help when needed.
We bring lots of animals that can be touched and held during our visits! Sometimes a little help may be needed, either by holding their hand on top of ours or simply showing the best way to touch. I always show how and then ask if they’d like help!
3) Provide Choices (But Not Too Many)
Sometimes asking a broad question may not receive an answer as the options are too vast. However, if you provide two or so choices, it’s easier for them to give you their preferred pick.
At ZooLab, with every visit we do, animal handling is optional! We encourage everyone to push themselves and conquer fears but respectfully accept that not everyone will want to even be in the same room. At care homes, I find it best to ask if they’d like to have a look. If so, we can chat, and then I ask if they’d like to touch or hold. Two options are given, and I usually receive a clear yes or no. (Often, when I ask if they’d like to hold the giant African snail, the jokers of the group will say ‘No, but can I eat it?’)
4) Listen (with your ears AND your eyes)
Remember that not knowing where you are and who you are talking to is a terrifying experience. You can help by being calm, smiley, have a positive attitude. When waiting for a response, be reassuring and kind.
When I am doing a care visit, I try and remember that I am a total stranger who has walked in with a load of (what some people consider) scary animals! A smile goes a long way. I make time to introduce myself to the group and again as I go around, and I also make sure to learn names.
5) Reminisce with them and have a laugh!
People with dementia may not be able to remember what’s happened in the last hour but can recall their life 40 years ago. As such, you will hear some brilliant stories.
In care homes, certain animals will trigger memories and stories. I hear about childhood pets and wild encounters from when they were kids or travelling. Once, I was even told about someone’s posting in the war and how they had to sleep with one eye open to watch for scorpions in the forest!
Visiting care homes and watching the residents interact with the animals is a wonderful experience. Animals provide so much therapy (Yes, even the creepy crawlies!) and act as a brilliant talking point for everyone to get involved. Thank you for taking the time to read our top tips when it comes to dementia!