It’s not often a menagerie of animals can be seen roaming around a Sheffield nursing home.
But goats, guinea pigs, chickens, ducks and ferrets all made a special visit to Wood Hill House on Grimesthorpe Road recently.
The event was the first organised by well-known community charity Heeley City Farm as part of its ‘farming comes to you’ scheme.
It is a fun, innovative initiative with a serious aim, that of boosting interaction with dementia patients, who can often feel isolated, and the relatives who look after them.
Similar care farming schemes have been run in the Netherlands, but this is the first of its kind in Sheffield. and organisers Lee and Andrew Pearse believe it is the first in Yorkshire.
The brothers have much experience in the field of dementia, after caring for their mum Val Pearse for 10 years until she died last year at the age of 67.
She held a guinea pig for 45 minutes and just smiledLee Pearse
“Mum was a massive animal person”, said Lee, who manages the farm’s dementia department, which was set up last year.
“Dad had an allotment which he used to take her to and even if she just sat watching the geese and the dogs she found it very calming.
“She would have got a great deal out of something like this, not that she would have been able to tell us, but we would have known from her expression.”
Val, who had a rare form of dementia called frontotemporal dementia, lived in Wood Hill for five years.
The farm visit, also co-ordinated by Sarah Hardy from the farm and Grace Rodgers at the nursing home, had a positive effect on residents.
Many of them enjoyed crafts or hands-on therapy with the animals.
Such treatments can in some cases increase interaction and conversation with dementia patients – and it is even claimed that there can be physical benefits such as lowered blood pressure.
Lee, who lives in Meersbrook and is 42, said: “There was a woman there who was riddled with anxiety. She doesn’t really make noise or talk but she held a guinea pig for 45 minutes and just smiled.
“The carers said that they hadn’t seen her that calm for a long time.
“It was incredible, more than we expected.
“And it was also quite emotional for me personally, there were moments where I had to look away.
“The care staff were exceptional at the home and without them engaging and motivating residents it wouldn’t happen in the enriching way that it did.
“They may have enjoyed it just as much as the residents – that’s a very important factor in dementia care.”
Grace, the development co-ordinator for the home, added: “Horizon have always worked closely with Lee at Heeley City Farm due to the close connection of caring for his mum for some years.
“We are extremely proud to have hosted the launch of Farming Comes To You in our beautiful wellbeing suite.
“It is a fantastic project and a great opportunity for our residents to be able to interact with animals, which they are rarely able to do. “Animals are proven to be therapeutic to patients and Iwas very excited to see their reactions to having the farm here.”
Film-maker Lee and Andrew, who is a graphic designer for the farm, have worked together extensively on dementia campaigning and set up the Valerie Foundation for creativity and dementia support.
They have won national awards for care advocacy, campaigning and film-making about the subject – both are keen to take the farm’s dementia projects to as many people as possible.
This year it is hoped that more care facilities will benefit from the schemes, which also aim to bring people together and provide access to the outdoors, indoors.
Another elderly 35 people also visited the farm and had lunch as part of a special trip recently.
Lee, who was named as a national champion of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “It’s really to enable people who live in care homes to be able to access the farm – we take elements of it to care settings.
“One of the things that can happen when someone has dementia is that families can fall apart because of the pressure and difficulties that people go through when they have to care for a loved one.
“Activities can be a vehicle to bring families together as well as benefiting those with dementia.”
For more information about the dementia projects at Heeley City Farm contact Lee. firstname.lastname@example.org or call the farm on 0114 2580482.
* Dementia is used to describe a group of symptoms that can include memory loss, difficulties speaking or thinking and changes in behaviour.
* There are more than 100 types of dementia, with the most common including Alzheimer’s Disease. * The chance of developing dementia increases with age. One in 14 people over 65 years of age, and one in six people over 80, has dementia. * It is more common among women than men. * Dementia happens when the brain is affected by a disease and is not a part of ageing