‘Resilience and beauty’: Touching moment donkeys bring joy to lady living with dementia

  • Donkeys brought joy and comfort to an 89-year-old lady living with dementia, on her first outing since the pandemic.

    Carol Stone brought her mother, Beryl, a life-long donkey lover, and carer Maxine to The Donkey Sanctuary in Ivybridge. Beryl, who has dementia, no longer speaks, so Carol hoped spending time in the presence of the donkeys would allow space for non-verbal communication and bring mutual benefits.

    “Despite Mum’s physical limitations, she remains aware and appreciative of her surroundings, even though communication can be challenging. Witnessing her reactions to things she loves is always astonishing,” said Carol.

    Monty, a 26-year-old donkey, was the first to approach Beryl. Carol said he stood “quietly and calmly next to Mum, and seemed to understand that was what he needed to do”, before others also approached.

    “It was a very special moment,” said Carol. “To others it may have seemed Mum was not interacting, but Maxine and I knew she was. She stayed awake the entire time and even managed a smile.

    “There are no words to describe how happy that made me – I will always have that memory.

    “If Mum were able to talk, I know she would be chatting non-stop about our visit, but when she looks at the photos we took on the day and smiles, it means the world to me.

    “There isn’t much I can do to enrich Mum’s life, but I truly believe that animals bring huge comfort and joy to people of any age and this visit meant so much to us – it is something I will cherish for ever.”

    Anita Cota, Ivybridge centre manager, said the centre “radiated with a remarkable energy and warmth during Beryl’s visit”.

    “Hearing from the team that it was Beryl’s first outing since Covid was not only very touching but also a poignant reminder of the resilience and beauty found in human connection with animals and the community,” she said.

    Equine assistant Kennidy Williams added: “A moving moment I think I’ll always remember was Beryl’s apparent connection to the donkeys. Her [carer] was helping her smooth Monty and placed her hand back down. Almost instantaneously, Beryl tried to move her fingers in a stroking motion. Her carer helped lift her hand, and as soon as she felt Monty, a little smile appeared.

    “The session was filled with lots of smiles and laughter. It was a pleasure seeing everyone light up around the donkeys. Her daughter expressed how much the session meant to her, and as it was Beryl’s first time out since the pandemic, it was even more special to help make those memories.”

    Derek Dodd, regional manager at the Alzheimer’s Society, said the charity is “extremely grateful” to the sanctuary for providing these “incredible wellbeing sessions”, which “clearly have a wonderfully positive impact on those living with dementia”.

    “One in three people born today will develop dementia in their lifetime, and there are currently 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK,” he said.

    “Alzheimer’s Society is here for everyone affected by dementia. Call the Dementia Support Line on 0333 150 3456 or visit alzheimers.org.uk for help and advice.”

    • Have interactions with equines brought comfort to you or a loved one? Let us know your thoughts at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming issue of the magazine

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