Helping Dementia Patients through Bird Tales
Bird Tales, a new National Audubon initiative, is a dynamic, unique, and low-cost therapeutic program that brings the natural outdoor world of birds to people living with dementia. With skillfully designed programming, trained volunteers, and lots of enthusiasm, Bird Tales engages people with dementia and connects them to the outdoors and birds like never before.
Bird Tales uses multisensory stimulation and the outdoor world of birds to help people living with dementia share a meaningful experience with others while also providing local and migratory bird populations with newly improved habitats. Houston Audubon joined forces with Ken Elkins at Connecticut Audubon on a Toyota Green grant to expand Bird Tales from the Atlantic Flyway to the Central Flyway. Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory is also a partner in the expansion of the program. Bird Tales not only brings the sights and sounds of birds into a dementia care facility, it teaches and instructs facility managers how to improve exterior habitat for birds with native plants and feeding stations. This instruction spills over to employees and family members as they witness their loved one enjoy birds at feeders, native plants, and water features.
John Burroughs wrote "How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days". For the last 14 years, Houston Audubon has been privileged to have the opportunity to take the mission of bird conservation to both the young, the old, and every age in between. School children at all grade levels thrill to meet the live birds but so do senior populations living in retirement communities, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and dementia care facilities. There are over 5.2 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s disease, and it is now the 6th leading cause of death. Environmental psychologist Kathleen Wolf at the University of Washington has gathered more than 1,800 research papers that show that green spaces in cities can provide a number of benefits, including revitalizing a person physically, psychologically, and socially. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: "And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years."
Houston Audubon would love to have you join us and volunteer to help a facility launch a Bird Tales program. Contact Mary Anne Weber at email@example.com if you are interested.
February 2017 Update
The Houston Audubon Education Team had a great time delivering a Bird Tales program to the residents at the Belmont last week. Birds Tales is a special program developed by Audubon Connecticut and a dementia specialist. The Belmont Village Senior Living Hunters Creek is going to be delivering these specialized programs to their residents on a regular basis with assistance and training from Houston Audubon staff. Houston Audubon will also be helping them set up bird feeders and a native plant garden for the residents to enjoy.
January 2014 Update
by Mary Anne Weber, Education Director
In the words of John Burroughs "I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order". And it is with this same passion to bring the healing power of nature to Houstonians suffering from dementia that Houston Audubon launched "Bird Tales" in January. Ken Elkins from Audubon Connecticut spent four days with Houston Audubon staff, volunteers and Texas Master Naturalists training and demonstrating his Bird Tales initiative. Thanks to a Toyota TogetherGreen grant, Houston Audubon is now offering this unique presentation to dementia and memory care facilities across southeast Texas.
There are three major levels of this initiative. The first is to bring the joy and love of birds to residents in memory care facilities. When Ken visited a facility in Katy, he handed an Audubon plush model of a Black-capped Chickadee to a resident who was separated from the main group. She immediately lit up and started smiling and laughing as she listened to the call by pressing on the model. The director of the facility quickly pulled me aside and told me that her staff had warned that this resident had been having a hard day and was very unhappy. The director was thrilled as she watched her resident laugh and smile for the hour presentation. The second and third components of the initiative involve assisting a facility set up bird feeding and watering stations and re-landscaping their courtyards and grounds with native plants to attract birds and butterflies. Paul Fagala from Wild Birds Unlimited (14032 Memorial Drive) joined us for the workshop and will be assisting facilities with their choice of feeders, seeds, and housing. Flo Hannah from Houston Audubon will be assisting with plant choices for large or small courtyards. This is a holistic approach that will ultimately impact residents, staff and family members. Ken and I would like to thank all the staff and volunteers who came out for the training and to the staff of Village of Meyerland, the Solana at Cinco Ranch, and The Amazing Place for letting us pilot this initiative at their facilities.