A cracking new therapy to help older people

Members of the Cooping Well project at The Alnwick Garden. Picture by  Jane Coltman
Members of the Cooping Well project at The Alnwick Garden. Picture by Jane Coltman

A project that provides older people in Northumberland with an opportunity to look after hens is aiming to encourage social interaction and improve people’s wellbeing.

The Northumberland Cooping Well project has seen volunteers and elderly enthusiasts get involved in the day-to-day care of poultry with the guidance of people who are experienced in keeping it.

Coun Scott Dickinson with one of the hens.'Picture by Jane Coltman

Coun Scott Dickinson with one of the hens.'Picture by Jane Coltman

The first coops have been set up at The Alnwick Garden and Briardale Community Centre in Blyth in response to requests for more activities of interest for both older men and women.

The idea behind the project is that hens are sociable creatures with which people can enjoy interacting.

They reduce stress levels, are harmless and can help people tap into early memories, especially those suffering from dementia.

Over recent weeks, residents have been busy feeding and cleaning the hens and collecting their freshly-laid eggs.

The project is part of the Ageing Well programme, which is funded by Northumberland County Council and aims to help ensure people stay active, connected and well as they grow older.

Although the project seems light-hearted and quirky, it has a serious purpose.

A 12-month study by Northumbria University in 2012/13 found that looking after hens improves the health and wellbeing of older people, reducing depression, loneliness and the need for antipsychotic medication in care homes.

At The Alnwick Garden, the six hens have been named and Delila, Cilla, Mildred, Herb, Henrietta and Chucky are already proving very popular especially with members of Blooming Well, a gardening group for people living with memory loss.

Other elderly visitors to the garden and children with disabilities are also playing their part in the care of the hens.

Coun Scott Dickinson, chairman of the health and wellbeing board at Northumberland County Council, said: “It’s really important for older people to keep busy and, if they are able, to learn new skills and enjoy new experiences.

“Those involved in the project are not just interacting with the hens, but with each other, sharing their experiences and making new friendships.”

For more information about the Ageing Well programme, visit http://tinyurl.com/p2hw2gr