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Care homes nationwide are catching on to the power of hen therapy for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Whilst dogs and cats have long been welcome visitors in care homes throughout the UK, hens and chickens were not, until recently, afforded the same status. But a pioneering project which enables residential homes to keep their own hens, has proved so beneficial for people with dementia, that it’s now being rolled out nationwide. HenPower is here to stay.

The initiative began back in 2012 when a male resident in a care home in Tyne and Wear talked to staff about ‘his girls’ and how much he missed them. With support from Equal Arts, a north-east based charity, the care home bought a coop and six hens and staff clubbed together to buy them a new run. The hens proved such a hit – particularly with male residents – that following a six month trial, the HenPower scheme received £1m Big Lottery funding, which allowed more care homes in the region to start hen therapy.

A study of the homes taking part in the scheme, by the University of Northumbria, revealed that hen keeping wasn’t simply a pleasurable, social activity for people with dementia (many of whom had kept chickens as children), it could also have a calming effect, helped lower blood pressure and heart rate, and reduced the use of anti-psychotic drugs for aggression.

HenPower projects have recently begun in Brighton and London, as well as pilots in Australia and Holland.

‘It is overwhelming to think a creative project trialled in one care setting is having such a positive impact for many people living with dementia,’ says Douglas Hunter, who helped to create and roll out the scheme.

HenPower is now reaching more than 25 care homes and supporting more than 700 older people across the UK, and Douglas has been nominated for a national Pride of Britain award. The star-studded ceremony will be screened on ITV on Thursday 1 October at 8pm, so tune in to see if Douglas wins an award.