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Reducing the Symptoms of Caregiver Compassion Fatigue Utilizing Equine Assisted Learning

I am the coordinator and co-facilitator to help bring this idea to fruition. I have done this once before in the fall of 2016

Photo of Paula Frakes
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it better support family caregivers as they care for a loved one with dementia?

This is for the informal caregivers. Outcomes of this program inlude: A decrease in the side effects of caregiver fatigue such as depression, stress, anxiety. Equip the caregivers with two to three skills that will assist them to overcome the side effects of caregiver compassion fatigue. Empower the participants with emotional and communication skills to help them communicate their needs and ask for help when they need it.

In the fall of 2016, I participated in coordinating a pilot study to see if Equine Assisted Learning could be effective in helping informal caregivers in rural Minnesota to deal with the stresses of caregiver fatigue and burnout. This was a 6-week program that met once a week for 2 hours at a Therapeutic Equine facility in Hutchinson MN.  We utilized standardized tools to measure the before and after effects of the program. We found the program to overall be successful in meeting the objectives. I would like to replicate this program in the metro area of Minneapolis/St. Paul and beyond. I see this program as a powerful way to help caregivers address their caregiver fatigue in a kinesthetic and social/emotional way beyond the traditional classroom or social meeting experiences. This is a powerful form of therapeutic experience that has a track record across many populations, and age groups, but is just starting to be explored with our older adult population. 

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I would like to help bring a similar program to the Twin Cities metro area where there are an even greater number of potential participants for this type of program. I have identified some local therapeutic equine programs that would be willing to help make this happen. I know there are also many local support groups from which to recruit caregiver participants.

What skills, input, or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Reaching out to additional caregiver support groups. Additional help with the research and measurement of the outcomes.

How long has your idea existed?

  • Over 1 year

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

I have an MA in Gerontology & 24 years experience working with senior adults in various senior living settings. I also have over 20 years experience working in the Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) field specifically focusing on how AAI helps to benefit our older adult population.

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Photo of Judy Gregg
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I was the unbiased observer for this program and saw the powerful effect the horses had on the fatigued caregivers. I saw the caregivers relax and become totally focused on interacting with their horse. I heard them report on some of the skills they were taught and how these tools helped them better interact with their loved one.