Making Decisions About Home Care

If Your Loved One Has Alzheimer's, A Miniature Horse May Be Just What The Doctor Ordered

by Mae Ferguson

If you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's, you know how challenging some days can be. Since there is no cure for Alzheimer's, you might feel helpless knowing that your loved one's symptoms will inevitably worsen.

Miniature horses can provide much-needed therapy for both you and your loved one. Sound strange? Here is a glimpse at why routine visits from a miniature horse can help you and your loved one cope with the symptoms of Alzheimer's.

Understanding Alzheimer's

Up to 80% of people who suffer from dementia are also diagnosed with Alzheimer's. "Dementia" is not an actual disease, but rather a set of symptoms that accompanies other medical disorders, and is a primary indicator of Alzheimer's. The symptoms of dementia include memory loss, trouble concentrating, vision problems, decreased ability to communicate, and poor reasoning and judgment.

In addition to dementia, other symptoms that people with Alzheimer's exhibit include mood and personality changes, and decreased involvement in social and recreational activities.

Helping Alzheimer's Patients with Therapy Animals

Research shows that animal-assisted therapy programs greatly reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer's patients. Dogs are the most commonly used therapy animals, but certainly not the only species capable of this kind of work.

Believe it or not, miniature horses are wildly successful therapy animals. As early as 600 B.C., horses have been used in therapy programs; today, these impressive animals are still used for rehabilitative and mental health reasons. Large horses are not always practical for therapeutic purposes, however, so animal-assisted therapy programs are using miniature horses more and more frequently, especially around Alzheimer's patients.

What is a Miniature Horse?

Miniature horses were not common in America until the 1960s. They are not small ponies; instead, they have proportions and appearances more similar to horses than stocky, wider ponies.

A miniature pony stands less than 34 inches at the withers, and weighs between 150 and 250 pounds. These animals are known for their friendliness and gentleness, and they are easy to handle and train.

Why You Should Try Miniature Horse Therapy

Miniature horses provide many therapeutic benefits that full-sized horses and dogs cannot offer.

  • Miniature Horses are Portable. If your loved one is in the severe stages of Alzheimer's, then getting out of bed or leaving the house is no small feat. Miniature horses are no larger than a big dog, so you can easily arrange for a handler to bring a therapy miniature horse to your loved one.
  • Miniature Horses are Not Threatening. Large horses are intimidating. On the contrary, miniature horses are friendly, fuzzy friends in small packages that are less threatening--something that most Alzheimer's patients desperately need.
  • Miniature Horses are Not Dogs. Many people are afraid of dogs or simply do not like dogs. For an Alzheimer's patient, these fears are exacerbated.
  • Miniature Horses Can Jog Memories. If your Alzheimer's patient once owned and loved horses, the inevitable loss of independence and ability to own and ride horses can be devastating. Miniature horses can help keep those memories and feelings alive, which not only helps combat emotional pains, but also memory loss.

Speak to your alzheimer's care expert to see if this is an option for you and your loved one.