Hen therapy! A wonderful program in England has brought hens to nursing homes and caring for the birds has dramatically improved the residents’ lives. The sense of responsibility helps boost their self-esteem and visits to the outdoor coops include socializing with other residents in fresh air while sun rays beam vitamin D onto them.
It was only a matter of time before hen keeping became a nursing home activity. There are facilities with cuddly resident cats that purr lovingly in the residents’ laps and raise morale by giving them a purpose in caring for another living being. Other senior facilities entertain the older folks with adorable children and both populations enjoy learning about each other’s perspectives.
In England an initiative called HenPower is giving participants a sense of purpose by teaching them about hen keeping. An organization called Equal Arts, whose motto is “Improving older people’s lives through creativity,” has completely changed the lives of senior citizens by bringing hens into their facility.
Equal Arts’ director, Douglas Hunter, recounts how HenPower began, “We had been working in a care home when a resident with dementia was talking about his girls. It turned out ‘the girls’ were his hens. He missed the routine of caring for them.” Equal Arts bought a used hen house and six hens. Several months later the hen house needed to be replaced. The staff was so impressed with the effects the hens had on the residents that they paid for a new one themselves.
HenPower operates in over forty care homes. Participants rave about the difference the program has made in their lives. One widower praised HenPower for giving him a worthwhile activity because his life was empty since his wife had passed away. Being with the hens and other hen keepers reduces loneliness and is a stimulating job. Former pet owners who miss their dog or cat bond with the hens and surrogate pets. Rather than sitting around watching television they go outside, feed the hens, collect the eggs, and even bring their feathered friends to Hen Road Shows at schools, care settings, and festivals to teach others about hen-keeping. Being part of a fun project enhances their lives and staves off depression. Dementia patients exhibit less agitation around the hens. The adorable hens have been known to wind up in their keepers’ laps. We know that interacting with animals is good for our health and makes people happy.
Northumbria University conducted a yearlong study of HenPower 12-month study of the project by Northumbria University in 2012-13 and concluded that the project improves the health and wellbeing of older people, reduces depression and loneliness, and decreases the need for antipsychotic medication. Art Equality’s website quotes research that shows that loneliness is as damaging to health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.
HenPower’s objective is for the elderly to “embrace ‘living with care’ as opposed to just ‘being cared for.’ “ As more nursing homes offer fulfilling activities and adorable non-human companions, the quality of their residents’ lives becomes better and better. Everyone deserves smiles and fun in their golden years.