Care, Farms & Dementia

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I first heard about care farms at an Alzheimer Europe conference, where I discovered that they are used extensively in the Netherlands as an alternative to day care centres for those with dementia.

It’s a wonderful, heart-warming concept that brings people with dementia close to the smells, sights and sounds of the outdoors, to the breathing warmth of animals and the touch of the land.  It gives them a purpose, a built-in fitness programme and life outside a nursing home.  The presentation I saw contained an image of an old lady pushing a milk pail along in her stroller that still makes me smile when I think of it.

Until the conference I didn’t know what care farms were, and I decided to find out if they existed here in the UK and if so whether they are used by those with dementia.   It turns out we have no less than 230 of them, under the umbrella organisation, Care Farming UK.

But their focus in this country is primarily towards vulnerable children and adults; where those with dementia are mentioned it seems – as so often with the very best dementia care – that provision for them is small-scale and patchy.

The size of the offering doesn’t diminish its quality however, and I hope that increasing awareness of living well with dementia will encourage the growth and spread of care farms for those with the condition.  In the Netherlands the farms have proved so popular that in 2013 they began to offer residential places (to date, about 20) for those with dementia.

To discover the benefits of care farming in the UK one need look no further than the website of a project called Let Nature Feed Your Senses.  It contains an inspirational account of four visits made by a small group of people with dementia from Credenhill Court care home in Herefordshire to the mixed grain and arable farm of Patrick Wrixon – a farmer who intuitively seems to understand the needs of those with the condition, even though his is not a care farm as such.

close up trailerThe illustrated record of summer and autumn trips to Devereux Wootton farm is guaranteed to lift your spirits on the gloomiest of January days.  It’s the little things that get you – the lively doggy welcome to put the elderly visitors at their ease, the tractor trailer with its jaunty blue awning used to chauffeur them about the farm, the profusion of seasonal, scented flowers, stems of wheat and inventive yellow-painted lining paper runners adorning each activity table.  I don’t know about you, but scrolling down the first few entries, I wanted to be there.

The project – funded by the Big Lottery in partnership with LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) and the Sensory Trust – is a perfect example of how, when well executed, a simple idea spawns a host of unforeseen delights.

The trailer ride became much more than a means to tour the farm: it turned into a mobile workout, with (as the website records) “the stimulation of the ride, the simple act of holding oneself steady and hanging on tight, becoming an empowering and positive part of the experience”.

whittlingThe elderly visitors were quick to spot the abundance of woodpiles, so Patrick asked a young man teaching forest-based activities to schoolchildren on the farm if he could adapt his classes for those with dementia.

Sam Goddard jumped at the chance.  Before long the Credenhill group were sitting in the shade of trees learning how to whittle hazel sticks and create whistles from elder twigs.  A normally near-silent old man began naming trees and plants; it turned out he’d once worked in forestry and the visit had unlocked in him a wealth of information that he was keen to share.

I could go on about the trips’ many and varied benefits for the group – and how their levels of confidence, ability and happiness rose with each successive visit and lingered after it – but you can read it all for yourself on the website.   The sting in the tail of this particular story is that the project was finite and came to an end just over a year ago.

Patrick, who explained to me that the higher level stewardship scheme in which his farm participates provides funds enabling him to host visits from different groups, said that he’d be happy to welcome people with dementia if care homes contacted him and helped with the planning.  The offer is there; let’s hope it’s taken up.

Another man who knows all about care farms and dementia is Lee Pearse.   This 41-year-old Sheffield filmmaker says that his mother’s diagnosis with fronto-temporal dementia seven years ago when she was just 59 almost tore his close-knit family apart and completely changed his life.

Talking to him it’s soon clear that he’s on a crusade to raise awareness of the condition, the effects of which he describes as “living in a daily horror movie”.  He’s the co-coordinator of the Sheffield dementia action alliance and has made two films (which you can watch here and here) charting the impact of his mum’s dementia on the family.

For the last ten years Lee has been involved with Heeley City Farm, created 33 years ago in the heart of Sheffield, and he’s recently become its dementia manager.  Like so many care farms, Heeley, which has 43 staff, is geared towards young people with learning and behavioural issues, but Lee, having seen how the environment and outdoor creative activities helped him and his brother to stimulate and maintain their mum’s wellbeing for several years after her diagnosis, wants to make it more accessible for people with dementia.

Last year, three groups of about 12 people with dementia and their carers visited from local care homes.  Their visits lasted about an hour and they toured the farm and held animals.  Now Lee wants to set up a dementia department focussed on the needs of those with the condition to maximise the farm’s benefits for them – and, importantly, their families – and use their experiences to aid research.  To this end he’s attempting to secure additional funding for the farm.

His plans could be helped by a report published last year outlining the current state of care farms in England and listing a number of recommendations aimed at improving their services, including developing an integrated strategy and ensuring that health and social care commissioners are aware of such farms and their offerings.   It reveals that the majority of care farms (76 per cent) are not running at full capacity, while 91 per cent could provide more sessions if they had additional staff, land, buildings and, most importantly, funds.

The report produced by Natural England (in collaboration with Care Farming UK and Essex and Leeds universities) reveals that relatively few care farms (less than a quarter of the total) have been visited by people with dementia.

This strikes me as a missed opportunity.  As Lee says of Heeley city farm, the infrastructure, animals, gardens and staff already exist to provide hands-on, therapeutic experiences for visitors.

Surely it’s time to ensure that those with dementia can benefit from the wealth of simple, sensory pleasures to be found in places such as Patrick Wrixon’s farm instead of, as happens time and again, being overlooked.

*

In a wonderful example of the power of social media, Sue Padfield of Fosse Farm in Somerset has just left a comment (see below) in which she eloquently describes hosting similar trips for care home residents, and how much she misses them.  It is an insightful, heart-warming addendum to my blog and, most importantly, Sue has given her email so that care homes can contact her about possible visits: suepadfield@aol.com

And now a Buckinghamshire farmer, Claire Morris (see comments below), has said that she would welcome further visits from care homes via her website: http://www.thecollegefarm.co.uk/groups/

26 Responses to Care, Farms & Dementia

  1. George Rook 13th January 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    Brilliant. Care farming is a fantastic opportunity for people with dementia to engage with their senses, to recover memories, to be lifted out of their misty confusion…

    • Pippa Kelly 13th January 2015 at 2:05 pm #

      Thanks George. You are so right and it would be great if they could be given greater opportunities to do so.

      • Julie Maloney 10th September 2015 at 4:23 pm #

        hello Pippa

        I was wondering if I could give you a call about the farm.

        Kind Regards

        Julie Maloney
        Quality Performance officer
        Wigan Council

        • Pippa Kelly 11th September 2015 at 4:03 pm #

          Yes if you email me on pk@pippakelly.co.uk with your phone number I’ll call you back.

  2. Yolanda Strachan 13th January 2015 at 10:42 pm #

    Heard of a Norwegian example – had no idea we had any in UK. Thanks for links.

    • Pippa Kelly 14th January 2015 at 10:28 am #

      Thanks Yolanda. Seeing what other countries do and importing their best practices is often very valuable.

  3. Sue Padfield 14th January 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    Like Patrick I was part of the wonderful LNFYS project, our arable and beef farm is based in Somerset, intuitively it seems we just knew how to reconnect care home residents with nature using the sights, sounds and smells of the farm and surrounding countryside. The project brought us valuable funding and the belief that this very overlooked group of people could benefit from a farm experience.

    The biggest hurdle to overcome was convincing the care home managers to allow the residents access to Fosse Farm, our visitors were particulary frail, with advanced dementia, possibly wheelchair bound, those with mobility would sometimes arrive in slippers ( heartbreakingly shoes were considered no longer necessary to own)

    Inspired by a book ‘bring me the ocean’ and to assist frail visitors I would bring the countryside into the barn we used, filling the space with everything sensory and seasonal collected from the hedgerows earlier. Nesteld together surrounded by straw bales we made nature collages, reminisced with old farming artefacts, got close to young cattle, listened to the birds, baked bread, tasted seasonal vegetables and berries from the farm allotment and drank copious amounts of tea, always from a china cup and saucer.

    Recorded in an overflowing journal I kept, the testimonials and photographs speak volumes of the benefits of their farm experience, residents slept better, had increased appetites, calmer dispositions, remembered their Fosse Farm experience, had better relationships with the staff and had made meaningful memories with family members who had accompanied them.

    Reading your article has made me realise just how much I MISS hosting those visits. Like Patrick we are not registered as a care farm however our HLS scheme would allow us to fund some visits this year, if the care homes were able to source funding for suitable transport.

    I would be happy to receive enquiries via email suepadfield@aol.com

    • Pippa Kelly 14th January 2015 at 3:24 pm #

      How wonderful Sue – thank you for taking the time and effort to leave such a wonderful, comprehensive comment. In fact, I may well edit it and add it as an addendum to the blog as it really is great and a perfect example of how social media can spread the word about best practice.

  4. Tan Clover 14th January 2015 at 10:05 pm #

    Dear Pippa – thank you so much fro this fabulous piece – Great links and really though revoking. I was aware of Farms – but did not know of the fabulous work bing done here to promote. I have a horse, and work at the yard on my days off and weekends when I can. We have 33 horses there, and I know the power of horses with people with sensory losses, or those with learning disabilities. Horses have an empathy that many humans could learn from – and the stillness creates a space for people to be themselves.
    I loved where you spoke about how being in the forest and learning to whittle a gentleman began to name trees -and how later it was discovered that he had worked in forestry. Another fabulous example of how experience reconnects the person with who they are.

    Happy new year to you!
    Tanya

    • Pippa Kelly 14th January 2015 at 10:45 pm #

      Many thanks Tanya. I love writing blogs like this one, where you can see projects and people really making a difference to those for whom life isn’t too good. As you can see (above) another farmer in Somerset has also been inspired to reconnect with people with dementia. All very hopeful, and an uplifting start to the new year. Have a happy one!

      • Tan Clover 17th January 2015 at 6:47 am #

        Hi

        Thanks!!! and please keep the blogs coming!

        tanya

        • Pippa Kelly 17th January 2015 at 10:09 pm #

          Many thanks Tanya!

  5. Claire Morris 15th January 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    Hi Pippa, I too am a farmer who was part of the brilliant Let Nature Senses Project, and have hosted a number of visits from the elderly. We are not a Care Farm, but as part of our HLS environmental agreement can host visits from a range of interested groups. I have established relationships with a local care home and the day centre in the village, and really really enjoy these visits. The LNFS project emphasised making any visit to our farm as sensory as possible, so there is always an emphasis on the experience itself, rather than making it a ‘show and tell’ day out. Taking the time to sit and chat with with the visitors, aswell as enjoying a piece of homemade cake, is always fabulous, and can often lead to reminising.

    We are based in Buckinghamshire, and I too would welcome care homes who would like to come (visits are free). Please follow the link to our website for more information.

    http://www.thecollegefarm.co.uk/groups/

    Thanks to the Sensory Trust for tweeting me about your excellent post!!

    • Pippa Kelly 15th January 2015 at 1:25 pm #

      Brilliant & thanks so much for getting in touch. I will also add you & your farm to my addendum. This all marks a good start to 2015!

  6. Caron 15th January 2015 at 1:52 pm #

    Beautifully written once again Pippa and so interesting. I also founds Sues’ account of her work interesting and inspiring. Let’s hope funding can be maintained for such a natural form of treatment and just sheer pleasure. We are holistic beings and and I am a great believer in the part nature plays. We have a Donkey Sanctuary in Devon and one is a regular visitor to the residents lounge of a local care home. The ladies absolutely love these visits.

    Thank you for sharing this update. I think I will just have to share all your work on my site from now on! There is room for all of us at the table of caring for our elderly.

    • Pippa Kelly 15th January 2015 at 2:29 pm #

      I absolutely agree re: the sharing and am all for it. The reaction to this post has provided a wonderfully positive start to the year. Thanks Caron.

  7. Jen Bartlett 18th January 2015 at 6:33 am #

    Lovely to read your post about the excellent work by farmers in the UK welcoming people living with dementia onto their farms and recounting it so graphically. I had the pleasure of working with many dedicated farmers during the life of the Let Nature Feed Your Senses project – knowing that finding articles on websites can be a bit tricky I wanted to share the link to the interesting work that one of your previous commenters, Sue, did with residents at her local care home. It is as moving as Patricks approach and quite different. http://letnaturefeedyoursenses.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf-downloads/Fosse%20Farm%20House%20case%20study_lowres.pdf

  8. Pippa Kelly 18th January 2015 at 11:02 am #

    Thank you Jen. Sue contacted me & says she’s happy to open her farm again this year, which is brilliant. I’m delighted at the positive response this blog has attracted.

  9. Andy Ridgewell 20th April 2015 at 1:34 pm #

    Hi Pippa,

    You might be interested to read our experiences of developing a care farming project for older men in Dorset.

    We know that care farming can benefit many older people, but we felt that older men would benefit particularly, as they are often reluctant to accept support from more traditional services.

    The project, which we call The Countrymen’s Club, has delivered sessions via Let Nature Feed Your Senses and also had a grant from the BIG Lottery Fund. During our lottery grant we set up a blog, which you can find here: http://www.countrymen.org.uk

    Andy

    • Pippa Kelly 20th April 2015 at 3:03 pm #

      Thanks Andy. This looks brilliant and I will come back to you re: writing something on it. I love the snail farms in Australia!

  10. Sue Padfield 28th April 2015 at 8:20 pm #

    Today I had the great pleasure to meet with representatives from Bath & North East Somerset, dementia care team.

    My reply to your blog in January was found online and added credibility to a conversation I had purely by chance at a social gathering with someone from the commissioning team recently.

    Great things will come from this meeting I’m sure, and have already discussed organising a management, carers and dementia friends meeting during dementia awareness week in mid May. I’m keen on that day to also host a small group of residents in the morning for a wonderful Spring time, sensory rich experience on the farm. I’ll keep you posted Pippa – I’m feeling very optimistic

  11. Sue Padfield 21st August 2015 at 9:07 pm #

    Dementia Friends funding is a small funding stream from NHS England, Bath and North East Somerset raised awareness recently by holding an event at Fosse Farm on July 9th. The event included a sensory rich farm experience for local dementia care home residents and later for professional carers, GP’s & commissioners a meaningful presentation on how engaging activities can improve the quality of the interaction between carers, communities and people living with dementia. Those attending were inspired & promised positive “actions” to improve the life of those living with the condition.

    Comments received afterwards included ” this has been so inspiring – I’m brimming with ideas” “My action is to get all of our 300 staff signed up as Dementia Friends” & ” Residents were more talkative and eager to chat when they got back, especially about the animals”.

    Fosse Farm’s action promise is to extend a welcome to local dementia sufferers & their carers to attend a series of “harvest days” farm visit days in September, and enquiries woud be most welcome.

  12. Erin 24th November 2015 at 9:26 pm #

    Hello! I loved this article:)

    My name is Erin and I am a dual Master’s degree student at the University of Michigan studying Public Health and Social Work. I am a part of the Geriatric Scholars program and I have a particular interest in working with invidiuals with dementia. As a part of our program, we can apply to travel abroad for about 3 weeks in August. I am interested in visiting a green care farm or two during this time. I am wondering if there is someone I should contact to talk to further about this opportunity!

    Thank you!

  13. Melissa - Seniorcare-homes.com 22nd January 2016 at 1:59 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this, Pippa! I know that regularly joining and taking part in various activities on dementia care farm is so beneficial. It is not only giving them chance to feel the nature, but could also enable people with dementia to realize a number of health and functional condition.

    • Pippa Kelly 22nd January 2016 at 3:34 pm #

      Absolutely. Thanks for taking the time to comment Melissa. Are you on Twitter?

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  1. Pets as Therapy | Care Charts UK - 14th September 2015

    […] For trips out, what better way of getting back to nature and into the fresh air than visiting your local Care Farm? Care Farming UK have a list of suitable venues near you, and award-winning journalist Pippa Kelly has written in interesting article on the subject of care farms and dementia. […]

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