Therapy animal named Dare unlocks a few precious childhood memories among seniors at
Memories can be fleeting at The Preston of the Park Cities, so a special visitor named Dare gave dementia patients living there a chance to live in the moment this week.
The miniature horse was part of an effort to engage residents at the North Dallas retirement community, said Molly Meyer, the assisted-living facility’s director of lifestyle engagement.
“I’ve seen more smiles today in just the most beautiful ways," she said, “because people aren’t just focused on what they’re losing but on this great in-the-moment experience.”
The Preston partnered with Equest, a nonprofit equine therapy organization, for Tuesday’s event. Staff even escorted Dare upstairs, which “took some maneuvering,” Meyer said with a laugh.
Around a third of the community’s 62 residents have some form of dementia, Meyer said. And she estimates 75% of those people would forget they had met Dare within a couple of hours.
Still, many people who visited with Dare were flooded with good childhood memories. Claude “Dako” Dollins, for instance, was the son of a ranch hand. Dare reminded him of his childhood pet, a miniature horse named Twinkles.
Dollins said seeing Dare also evoked memories of his father.
“Any time I see somebody who has a cowboy hat on or something, I think of my dad,” the 79-year-old said.
Leonard Taylor, 89, is another resident who was impressed by the therapy animal. He said it was a unique experience getting to see the horse up close.
“How often can you go out and play with a little tiny animal like that?” he said. “I mean, it’s a wonderful thing to have happen here. It was really very nice.”
Meyer believes horses are especially intuitive animals, a quality she said was affirmed when Dare lowered his head to let a resident in a wheelchair pet him.
Studies show that equine-assisted therapy is an effective way to improve cognition and mood for patients with mental health needs, according to Psychology Today. Dementia can be an isolating experience, Meyer said, and patients who are losing their cognition can often feel self-conscious.
That’s why Meyer decided to get creative with planning the facility’s activities. Last month, the community got to practice goat yoga. And Meyer said they might even get to do some kitty yoga soon, too.
Tuesday’s event was a huge hit, Meyer said: Every resident in the community, regardless of whether they are losing cognition, enjoyed their visit with Dare.
“For me, it is so rewarding to see the smiles, to see people who are in the process of losing cognition just relax and be in the moment,” she said. “It’s just incredible.”
This article originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News on November 20, 2020.