There are currently no cures for the the neurological dementia that comes with Alzheimer’s disease. Subsequently, the slow but often severe mental decline can leave those suffering from the disease with a sense of loneliness and confusion. But one care home in Arizona has found a clever and cute way to combat such feelings.
Catalina Springs Memory Care, based in Oro Valley, Arizona, is a fairly typical-looking nursing home. However, the establishment prides itself on its unique and personal approach to residential care. For instance, a dedicated team of staff work hard to try to reduce the sense of isolation and confusion that often comes with residents’ dementia.
After all, many residents at Catalina Springs suffer from neurological diseases, dementia or memory loss. These debilitating diseases also cause a mental decline in patients that can affect their ability to communicate. Shockingly, Alzheimer’s is present in as many as four out of every five dementia cases.
Plus, according to figures from the Alzheimer’s Association, more than five million people in the United States are living with the disease. It is also the sixth most common cause of death in the country. So, with those figures in mind, many care facilities look for innovative ways to treat and control the illness.
At Catalina Springs, for instance, the staff work toward building a stable routine for their residents, while giving them independence. However, the debilitating nature of dementia often leaves those with it feeling frustrated, useless and lonely. So that’s where the facility’s newest project came in.
Rebecca Hamilton, health service director at Catalina Springs, had noticed how some of the people at the home seemed to be missing something from their lives. “We have some residents who are chronically searching, chronically looking for something that is familiar, something that holds meaning to them,” Hamilton told Upworthy. This observation led to an incredible idea.
In her spare time, Hamilton volunteered with the Pima Animal Care Center as a foster mom for kittens. The animal shelter, based in Tucson, takes in thousands of tiny kittens each year, all of which need 24-hour care. Hamilton thought it would be good to give her residents, who had so much time and love to share, the opportunity to look after the animals in need.
So, in October 2016, Catalina Springs launched its “Bottle Babies” program. This involved the Pima Animal Care Center taking two orphaned kittens, named Peaches and Turtle, to Catalina Springs, where the residents would care for them. In this way, the abandoned kittens would get the full-time care that they needed if they were going to survive.
And, according to Hamilton, the positive effects on the residents were pretty much instantaneous. “We can place one of the kittens in their hands, and suddenly they’re not searching, they’re not stressed,” she said. “They [seem to] recognize them as babies, and the human instinct to nurture just kicks in automatically,” Hamilton added.
And, aside from boosting the residents’ mood, there was also some unexpected benefits from being around the kittens. “We have noticed that [by] interacting with the kittens, we have residents who struggled with putting complete sentences together, or struggled to find words, could all of a sudden communicate,” Hamilton revealed.
To fully understand the influence the project has had, it is perhaps best to look at the changes that occurred individually. For example, when Greg Moore first arrived at Catalina Springs in 2014, he stopped talking to people. However, he now happily announces that he’s taking the kittens for a walk as he lovingly bundles them up under his arms for a daily stroll.
Of course, it’s not the first time Pet Therapy has been used to treat dementia. After all, interaction with animals is good for our health on a number of levels. For example, scientists have found that pets can boost our feel-good hormone serotonin, lower our blood pressure, lower our heart rate and reduce stress. It may also be able to help with depression and anxiety.
On top of this, interaction with pets can help trigger happy memories. This was the case for Thelma Bradfield, who with a kitten in hand opened up about her life experiences. “We had 19 cats,” she recalled. “We fed them in the barn. This one’s a little baby and needs a bottle.”
Sharon Mercer, Catalina Springs Memory Care Executive Director, said, “To some it may seem peculiar at first: Residents who are in need of around-the-clock care themselves, given the task to care for these young kittens. But there are skills, emotions and needs that do not just leave a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s.”
“The desire to give love and receive love remains,” Mercer explained. “The kittens have given us the opportunity to nurture this human condition that lies in each and every one of our residents.” So, by looking after the cats, the residents were rediscovering their caring sides.
And the whole experience was great for the two kitties as well. For instance, the babies arrived at the center weighing a minuscule seven ounces each. However, with the love and bottle feeds from their foster parents, the kittens soon doubled in weight and began to grow into healthy, happy cats.
“We are humbled, inspired and stunned by the love the residents at Catalina Springs Memory Care are showing to these orphaned foster kittens, Turtle and Peaches,” a statement from Pina Animal Care read. “We took in more than 2,100 kittens, and it is only through creative and caring programs like this one that we will achieve our goal of saving every one we possibly can.”
“We can’t thank Catalina’s Health Service Director, RN Rebecca Hamilton, and the staff and leadership of this organization, for embracing these kittens and partnering with us to save them and bring joy to their residents’ lives,” it continued. “Not long ago, we didn’t have the resources we needed to save bottle-baby kittens. Because of amazing people like them, we can, we do, and we will!”
Once they are fully grown, Peaches and Turtle will be placed up for adoption. And, thanks to the success of the Bottle Babies program, Pina Animal Care Center has plans to expand the project. Yes, it is hoped that more people suffering from diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia can experience the same benefits as those at Catalina Springs.
Certainly, being needed has done wonders to help the residents at Catalina Springs deal with their diseases. In their unique ways, both the kittens and the residents are helping each other live better lives – through the simple acts of care, compassion and, of course, cuddles.