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Nature Heals: Therapeutic Bird Program Helps Dementia Patients

Bird Tales, a therapeutic program by Randy Griffin and Ken Elkins, helps dementia patients by reconnecting them to backyard birds.

Amy K. Hooper

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

If we’re lucky, we humans get to become older, and for some of us, the later years include changes in our brains that lead to dementia. Despite those changes, we still might recall our love for birds when prompted by sight, sound and touch.

That’s the goal of Bird Tales, a kit released earlier this year. The "program for engaging people with dementia through the natural world of birds” combines the talents of an expert in dementia care and an environmental educator and competitive birdwatcher.

Bird Tales Cover
Suitable for use in individuals’ homes and in group settings, the kit includes a training DVD, a program guide with lesson plans, and activity cards. While the kit promotes the use of Wild Republic’s plush Audubon Birds, they must be purchased separately.

Bird Tales isn’t just about warm fuzzies, though. Promising results have come out of educator Ken Elkins’ work in four TransCon Builders nursing homes in Connecticut: The nursing staff has reduced the amount of medication for agitated patients – a change attributed to Elkins’ twice-monthly visits and the birdfeeding stations set up around the nursing homes.

As education program manager at National Audubon Society’s Audubon Center at Bent of the River in Southbury, Connecticut, Elkins worked with dementia care specialist Randy Griffin. Elkins drew on the Audubon At Home ideas to guide the nursing homes’ creation of bird-friendly grounds and birdfeeding stations. In this way, Elkins says in a National Audubon video, the birds become staff members in these small oases.

Administrator Andrew Kroachko admitted to feeling dubious at first. Then he watched Elkins during a presentation at a center. "I saw some responses, and no matter what he was doing, the energy flowed to the residents. I saw them engaging and trying to reach and touch.”

Get to know Elkins and see him interact with residents in this National Audubon Society video.

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Posted: August 8, 2013, 3:00 p.m. PDT

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Nature Heals: Therapeutic Bird Program Helps Dementia Patients

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Reader Comments
Desperately seeking Debra! Hi there, I'm writing from London, UK and really hoping to get in touch with the Debra in Edgewater, FL that left a comment on this thread. I am really interested in your story. Please could you contact the site owners as they have a message that I have sent them to forward to you? Many thanks, Ben
Ben, International
Posted: 2/22/2016 6:59:14 AM
I am a PTSD suffered, non militry service, just life experience issues. I am 100% disabled. I had a companion dog, she was fine for years. I decided to try volunteering at a bird rescue, and found a true, plesant, theraputic reaction I never expected. The bird calmed me like no other service dog had ever. I had visitors that come through that told of them situations.
I was amazed. I adopted a Umbrella Cockatoo Momday that has been registered as an emotional service pet. I can take her places, she quiets my anixity, and stress situations. Amazing. She even stopped a anixity /panic attack in a grocery store. She seen that I was getting nervous, started rubbing her head on me and trying for me to pet her. I think it is the immediate distraction, then the calm of her, that stops the process.
i also have seizure disorder, when/-if I go down...she sitts on my cest and screams for help? She doesnt quit until someone arrives. We taught her this part at home.
I totally believe in service birds, and will always h ave one, for me over a dog. I hope this was helpful.
Debra, Edgewater, FL
Posted: 12/10/2014 6:12:38 AM
good info.
Pedro, manchester, NJ
Posted: 11/30/2014 5:48:54 PM
good to know.
Shannon, Tunkhannock, PA
Posted: 11/22/2014 7:05:27 AM
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