Do Chickens Make Good Visitors at a Senior Care Facility?

At Arthur’s our animal visitors always bring a little light and levity into the room. The research shows exactly what we witness all the time: The presence of a dog, cat or any animal can transform an agitated and irritated Alzheimer’s patient into a state of contented calm.

But not all animal visitors are furry and have paws. One of our favorites was a chicken with such an impressive pouf of plumage, she didn’t resemble anyone’s idea of a hen. Her name was Pom Pom and she was a silkie who belonged to Deb Nygaard, the director of development at ACR Homes and Arthur’s Senior Care.

Pom Pom was a docile and easy-going girl who would stay put wherever you set her, even if it was on a stranger’s lap, and she also allowed people to pet her.

Deb became inspired to bring Pom Pom to Arthur’s for a visit when a resident named Alice would frequently hallucinate that a flock of chickens had wandered into the room.

Several times a day, Alice would call out, “Get those chickens out of the house!” So Deb and the other caregivers would shoo the invisible poultry out the door.

Naturally, Deb couldn’t help but wonder how Alice would respond to a real chicken.

One day, she set Pom Pom on the sofa next to Alice. (Just to keep things tidy, Nygaard always made sure Pom Pom was wearing her little diaper before bringing her to Arthur’s.) At the time, Alice was not in a friendly mood, so Deb stepped back and waited. Within a couple of minutes, Alice reached over and laid her hand on Pom Pom, gently pushing the bird into a sitting position.

From there, Deb saw a change in Alice. She became soft, calm and tender, stroking Pom Pom’s feathers for more than an hour. She would end each downstroke by curling her fingers around Pom Pom’s tail feathers, gathering them into a ponytail.

Deb and other staffers couldn’t resist getting out the camera to capture a shot of Alice bonding with her feathered friend. Each time one of them crept in to get a picture, Alice would catch them in the act, shouting out and crossing her arms on her chest in a huff.

“You’d think we’d have learned our lesson and left her alone,” Deb recalls. “But Pom Pom elicited such a personality change in Alice, we couldn’t help it.”

Besides spending time with Alice, Pom Pom delighted other residents, even if they didn’t quite know what to make of her.

When Deb showed her to Frank, he said he didn’t know what kind of critter Pom Pom was. But he was pretty sure she didn’t belong in the house! Nonetheless, he couldn’t help but reach over and stroke her fluffy feathers.

And then, there was Sharon. Deb asked her, “Do you know what this is?”

Sharon straightened a bit and with an authoritative nod of her head to the poofy chicken, she said, “Well, that’s a Phoenix!”

We hope that by sharing stories like these, we can provide some comfort and inspiration as you care for a loved one with dementia. Learn more about how we provide specialized care in our series “Insights from Arthur’s,” featuring educational videos from Arthur’s Director of Development and Senior Care Consultant Deb Nygaard.