Nature’s call

Patients with dementia participate in ‘Bird Tales’

Photo courtesy of Northglenn Heights
Tyler Edmondson with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory talks with Northglenn Heights resident Betty Urbach about birds that are common to feeders in the area on Jan. 14. Northglenn Heights Assisted Living & Memory Care Community and RMBO have teamed up to present Bird Tales to its residents who have dementia.

Robins, finches, sparrows — these are among some of the birds common to feeders in the Denver area.

Residents at the Northglenn Heights Assisted Living & Memory Care Community are learning what those birds look, sound and feel like during “Bird Tales,” presented by the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

“The idea is to bring in the natural outdoor world inside for those with dementia,” said Athena Bertollt, the home’s activities director. “This gives them a chance to express themselves without any judgment — there is no right or wrong.”

Since November, Tyler Edmondson with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory has been visiting the residents with dementia twice a month. He brings in stuffed birds that mimic the sounds they real ones make.

“The main birds that residents are learning about are birds that are common to feeders in the Denver Metro area,” he said. “One of the reasons for this is because an aspect of the Bird Tales program is the introduction of feeders near windows of the facilities, so that residents can enjoy viewing live birds that they are learning about during the programs and draw connections between what they are learning through their sensorial interactions with bird models and what they’re seeing outside.”

Bird Tales is a program created by the Audubon and RMBO was given a $4,684 grant from Toyota TogetherGreen to bring the program into three facilities. Inglenook at Brighton and St. Andrew’s Village in Aurora are the other facilities hosting the program.

Edmondson said that RMBO was already doing programs at assisted living homes and when it was presented with the possibility of bringing Bird Tales to our organization by partnering with Ken Elkins and Audubon through this Innovation Grant provided by Toyota TogetherGreen, it as a natural fit.

“We believe that there are inherently therapeutic qualities in nature and interactions with the natural world, so we strive to provide more opportunities for this to happen through all of our education programs,” he said.

The staff at Northglenn Heights agrees about the therapeutic qualities. There are 36 memory care residents at the facility, and Bertollt said they love the Bird Tales program.

“It’s prompting the residents to have memories and talk about them,” she said. “Their eyes light up; it’s an hour of smiles and laugher.”

Edmondson said that the program encourages the residents to connect with the birds and the natural world on a multisensory level — sight, sound, smell and touch.

“These experiences often have a calming effect on residents, that many staff members at facilities can attest to,” he said. “It is not uncommon for interactions with bird models to help deescalate residents in high-stress situations and bring out a more peaceful side of residents, who are prone to the negative effects dementia has on their attitude. Some staff have mentioned individuals’ attitudes have changed for the better part of a day after a Bird Tales program.”

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