Hartpury University research suggests contact with horses may benefit people with dementia

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Research at Hartpury University suggests that contact with horses may benefit the increasing numbers of people living with dementia.

According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 50 million people worldwide have dementia and that figure is expected to increase by more than 200 per cent by 2050.

Hartpury University masters degree student Alison Rood studied the effects of three equine-assisted activities – leading a horse on a rein, grooming and stroking – on people with dementia compared with going for a walk in greenspace.

Alison, who is studying a Masters in Research in Anthrozoology, said: “Equine-assisted activities appeared to improve the immediate quality of life for people with dementia more readily than the greenspace activity.”

Alison used the industry-standard Quality of Life-Alzheimer’s Disease (QoL-AD) scale using an in-depth case study approach to assess the effect of the activities on the two participants, at Cotswold Riding for the Disabled, to inform her research.

The QoL-AD scale comprises 13 items, including physical health, energy and mood, with response options being rated on a scale from poor to excellent.

In addition, feedback forms were completed by the two people with dementia and their main carers to record mood (sad, neutral or happy) before and after the activities.

All sessions were filmed as part of the analysis and both frequency and duration of expressed behaviours, such as smiling, laughing and talking, were recorded.

Alison said: “The overall finding is that these participants derived benefit from taking part in a series of activities, with or without a horse present.

“However, interaction with a horse appears to result in a wider range and increased frequency and duration of expressed behaviours than the greenspace activity.

“Equine-assisted activities appeared to improve the immediate quality of life for people with dementia, though with such a small sample size it is difficult to generalise the results of this study.

“Further research is warranted to better understand the impact of individual activities and enable the development of activities suitable for different stages of dementia.

“This should include the development of outcome measures to assist both researchers and practitioners to measure the impact and benefits of equine-assisted activities for people with dementia.”

Dr Jane Williams, Head of Research at Hartpury University, added: “These preliminary results suggest the application of equine assisted activities could be really positive for people with dementia, which is really exciting.

“However to protect the people and horses involved, we need to now build on this and undertake a larger scale study to determine how this approach could be used effectively within dementia support.”

Research activity at Hartpury University spans all areas of animal, agricultural, equine and sport sciences and directly or indirectly informs not only current industry practice but also the curriculum.

Home to more than 1,800 students, Hartpury University offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Sport, Equine, Animal, Agriculture and Veterinary Nursing, as well as postgraduate research and PhD qualifications.

Picture courtesy of Cotswold Riding for the Disabled

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