Animal therapy is one type of therapy that can help people with conditions such as dementia, but residents from one care home in Scotland had some unlikely visitors this week.

Three owls from Speyside Falconry Centre were brought along to the care home for the day to engage and interact with residents as a form of animal therapy.

The owls consisted of a one-year-old barn owl called Simon, a one-year-old Scops owl called Lana and a six-week-old Eastern European owl called Brogan.

Residents were encouraged to stroke and pet the specially trained owls as a way to relax and deal with conditions often associated with dementia such as anxiety and depression.

Something different

The visit was organised by Day Centre Officer Nicky Wall, who said she wanted to bring an exciting new activity to residents:

“I wanted to organise something different and when I came across the Speyside Falconry Centre on social media, I knew it would be a great activity.

“Many of our residents and day centre visitors can’t get out to wildlife parks, so it was important to bring the birds to them.”

After getting in contact with the owner of Speyside Falconry Centre, Clare Morrison, a day was organised to bring the owls to the care home for a day of therapy.

While residents enjoyed petting the owls on the day, they were also treated to educational talks conducted by Mrs Morrison about the owls, including what they eat, how they exercise and each of the owl’s individual personalities.

“Clare was brilliant and made the afternoon thoroughly enjoyable. Watching the owls up close was fascinating and we hope to have Simon, Lana and Brogan back for another visit later in the year,” said Mrs Wall.

And it would seem residents from the care home would tend to agree:

“I loved the visit – it was nice to get so close to the birds – it was a real treat,” said care home resident Mrs Madge Fairclough.

“I have ornaments and pictures of owls at home and have always liked them as their faces are so cute.”

The effects of animal therapy

Animal therapy has seen an increased use in care homes and dementia day centres over the past few years due to wider evidence stating the positive effects it can have on residents.

One clear effect is it can help relax and calm patients, and this is due to the release of endorphins when interacting with an animal, which produces the calming effect.

Scientists say the release of these specific endorphins can help alleviate pain and reduce levels of stress.

Animal therapy can also help combat loneliness and feelings of isolation. It is particularly helpful for those who have difficulty in socialising and communicating, as animals can produce the same positive effects without the need to engage in an actual conversation.

While dogs and cats are the most commonly used animals for therapy, it has been shown that a variety of animals can all produce the same effects.

In some cases, these effects can even be more profound for residents when meeting a new animal, due to them likely not encountering one before, which in turn provides an entirely new and positive experience.