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Bird Tales Harnesses the Healing Power of Our Feathered Friends
posted 02.08.2013

By ASA Staff

Tapping into long-lost visual or auditory memories can evoke strong happy reactions in those with Alzheimer’s, improving their mood for hours afterwards. This is one of the outcomes from a newly published program, begun in 2011, called Bird Tales.

In partnership with the National Audubon Society, Toyota and long-term-care provider TransCon, dementia care expert Randy Griffin developed Bird Tales with Audubon educator Ken Elkins. The 20-minute program, published by Baltimore’s Health Professions Press, is low cost ($89.95), and consists of an educational DVD that instructs long-term-care professionals and community organizations in how to attract local bird species to residential care communities’ outdoor spaces, and teaches facility staff how to encourage residents to interact with their new bird-filled environment.

It’s an innovative combination of conservation education and best practices for person-centered dementia care.

“Nature is one of our best medicines,” said Audubon president and CEO David Yarnold. “The Bird Tales program brings peace and joy to people living with dementia by connecting them with the healing power of birds. At the same time, by encouraging facilities managers to create bird-friendly habitats, the program gives birds a boost, too.”

It’s clear from the video of Elkins interacting with a class of facility residents that Yarnold’s reference to joy is no exaggeration. Residents tweet and laugh together as Elkins hands around plush toy birds. Residents also participate in simple outdoor projects that foster healthy bird habitats at their facilities.

And residents are not the only beneficiaries. Elkins is a competitive birder in his spare time and says, “I’m getting little peeks into bird populations [from] 50 years ago before I was born. … [Before Bird Tales] I was never was able to appreciate the power and joy that seeing a common backyard bird brings to others.”

The Toyota sponsorship is part of their TogetherGreen initiative with Audubon that builds conservation leaders through fellowships, grants money to innovators who are engaging new audiences in conservation and inspires people to spend time in nature.

“We saw profound effects when we implemented the Bird Tales program,” says TransCon’s vice president Mario Sinicariello. “Residents were responsive and excited in ways staff had never seen before. I applaud Toyota for getting engaged in something different than automobiles.”

With the Bird Tales training manuals now published, Audubon plans to expand the program beyond the current four TransCon facilities. For an up-close look at the program, drop by the Health Professions Press exhibit hall booth at the upcoming 2013 Aging in America Conference, March 12–16, in Chicago.

Image credit: Detail from “Bird in farmland bush, May 1972” by Charles O’Rear, U.S. National Archives, via Flickr.

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