Horses give caregiving wife a break

Dave had Alzheimer’s disease. He was high functioning, energetic, playful, and gregarious. His wife, Cindy, was exhausted. He wanted her attention constantly. Repetitive questions, asking for help with everything, calling her every ten minutes when she left him alone. He had even begun to wander off and get lost. She couldn’t get a moment to herself that was free from worry.

People in the early and middle stages of dementia still need to engage with others. They need social and mental stimulation that match their abilities. Even exercise to burn off energy. Without it they get bored and restless and seek the attention and activity they crave. (This is at the root of wandering, a common issue with Alzheimer’s and one that family members dread.)

When the Thoughtful Engagement® Specialist interviewed the family, they remarked that Dave used to say he was “raised in the saddle.” Growing up, he had had horses. But when his career required travel abroad, his riding fell by the wayside. Banking on his passion for horses, the specialist researched nearby stables and found one that would work with her.

The specialist would pick Dave up and they would drive to the stables. They would work with one of the wranglers who let Dave oil the tack and sometimes curry the horses. Together the specialist and the wrangler went out on trail rides with Dave, making sure he was safe while also encouraging him to engage his curiosity.

When it came time to mount up, for instance, Dave wanted to get on unassisted, but the specialist asked him to use the platform with her because she “needed the help.” (She did, but it was also an excuse to distract him to safer methods.) The specialist rode in front to keep Dave from getting too rambunctious. The wrangler rode behind to watch for things like a need to tighten Dave’s saddle.

Dave delighted in the outdoors. He crowed with glee to see rabbits and foxes scurry across the trail and pointed with wonder as hawks circled overhead. And he clearly felt a kinship with the horse. When he came home, Dave was sated. He was less clingy with Cindy and slept well at night, which meant she was able to get good sleep also. Cindy was recharged by getting time alone and a chance to socialize. With regular relief from the constant responsibility, Cindy was able to continue as Dave’s primary caregiver at home.

“This is the best service ever! Thoughtful Engagement was a game changer for us. It gave me the break I needed and gave Dave people and activities he could look forward to. It wasn’t all on me to be the sole source of his interactions.”
— Cindy, Dave’s wife