The Therapaws programme was pioneered by animal rescue charity Mayhew and involves animal visits to care homes, community centres and other residential facilities for the elderly. While they are not the first to use animals in a therapeutic way, they are the first to take rescue animals into the field.
Mayhew’s communications manager, Sarah Dickinson explains that many of the people they visit are suffering from Alzheimer’s and therefore can feel very isolated. During animal visits these patients come together and not only engage with the pets and the volunteers, but with other residents too. Bringing them out of their rooms and engaging their minds like this is integral.
Playing with cats and dogs of course offers a great deal of companionship, but as well as this it has the power to unlock memories. For patients who used to have pets, it can remind them of that time in their life, or it may even remind them of a friend or family member.
Residents living in care homes are prone to depression and can become withdrawn, something Therapaws hopes to reduce by getting patients out of their rooms and talking to each other, and many of the centre managers report that residents continue talking after the visit is over. Sarah says, “It’s a real all-round improvement in their mental faculties.”
Mayhew is now expanding the Therapaws project into palliative care, in St Luke’s Hospice in London. Here it is hoped that the animals will give the patients something to look forward to and provide mental stimulus.