An estimated 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease in 2015, and barring the development of medical breakthroughs, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to rise to 13.8 million by 2050.
Given those staggering numbers, it makes sense to consider and embrace new methods of improving the lives of people grappling with the disease, and that’s just what one long-term care facility in Colorado is doing.
Meet Boris and Pumba, two pot-bellied pigs who are working with Alzheimer’s and other memory-impaired seniors, and the result is beautiful.
The pigs spend their days visiting Alzheimer’s patients at hospitals and nursing homes in the Denver area, including each weekend when owner Erin Brinkley-Burgardt brings Boris and Pumba to Highline Place in Littleton, Colo.
Highline residents have the opportunity to visit and interact with the pigs, and feed the pigs carrots.
Therapy animals can help Alzheimer’s patients in a number of ways, from providing a stress-free connection to another living being to igniting long lost memories from a patient’s past.
Elle Fore, who oversees resident activities at Highline, first came up with the idea of introducing therapy pigs into the mix, and it’s not just helping patients there. The pigs also help caregivers.
Alzheimer’s caregiver burnout is a serious problem. In 2014, 15.7 million caregivers provided more than 17.9 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $217.7 billion.
When Boris and Pumba visit Highline, they interact not just with Alzheimer’s patients, but also their family members and facility staff, providing much needed stress-free moments worth smiling about.
Boris and Pumba are not certified therapy animals, though Brinkley-Burgardt says she may get her pigs certified in the future so they can expand their visits to elementary schools. For now, the 1-year-old pot-bellied pigs stick to working with seniors.
It’s not all work and no fun for the pigs. On the contrary, they seem to enjoy their Highline Place visits. Brinkley-Burgardt says, “They really love all the attention they get here.”
I’m sure the carrots don’t hurt either.
Here are Boris and Pumba in action:
Therapy pigs join a long list of animals that have proven useful in the field of therapy service. But they’re not such a stretch, when you consider that two years ago, Care2 shared news about one life care center that had started using therapy chickens for residents with dementia. Before they turned to chickens, the Life Care Center of Nashoba County in Littleton, Mass., had already incorporated therapy dogs, pygmy goats, llamas, an alpaca and an indoor cat into the daily lives of its residents.
According to PetPartners, the nation’s largest nonprofit registering animal handlers who provide animal assisted interactions to people in need, there are a great many species that make wonderful visiting animals and can form a strong human-animal bond.
Besides the obvious dogs and cats, PetPartners allows guinea pigs, rabbits, domesticated rats, horses, donkeys, llamas, alpacas and birds to become Pet Partners Therapy Animals. Wild or exotic animals, such as wolf-hybrids, snakes, ferrets, lizards, may not be registered with Pet Partners, and they do not register barnyard animals such as cows, goats, chickens, ducks or geese.
As for Boris and Pumba, Mercy for Animals sums this tale of two piggies up nicely:
This touching story reveals that pigs are just as friendly and intelligent as the dogs so many of us know and love, but on today’s farms, they’re treated as unfeeling commodities, and their short lives are filled with misery and deprivation.
The organization dedicated to preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices says the best way to show your love for pigs is to leave them off your plate. You can order their free Vegetarian Starter Guide here.