Learning about what works and what doesn’t work is a big part of the Big Lottery Fund’s support of The Countrymen’s Club over the next 18-months. Under the Silver Dreams Fund we are being asked to test new ways of working that could help vulnerable older people deal better with life-changing events. An important part of this process is understanding what is already known about these issues, so we are going to be reviewing some of the more important research findings right here in the blog.
The Countrymen’s Club, as with everything that Future Roots does, is based on the idea of ‘care farming’. Care farming is often defined as the therapeutic use of farming practices, although it still seems to mean different things to different people. Research commissioned by Care Farming UK, the national umbrella body, showed that the movement has the potential to offer a solution to some of the UK’s health and social care needs while also helping to diversify farms and ensure their future viability. We’re seeking to test this idea by seeing whether a care farming approach can help older members of the farming community itself.
Exploring the benefits of care farms for dementia patients
There’s very little written on the subject of care farming for older people, but we have found an interesting study from the Netherlands. It’s an unpublished thesis from Wageningen University by a researcher named Simone de Bruin. I liked the title, Sowing in the Autumn Season, so much, that this post is named after it! The document is over 200 pages long and it can be read in full here [large PDF] or in the window below:
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The research is specifically concerned with older people who have dementia and focusses on five different issues: physical activity; dietary intake; cognitive functioning, emotional wellbeing and behaviour; functional performance; and respite for carers. Throughout it compares older people who attend a care farm with those who attend a traditional day care service.
The main findings are:
- Older people were more physically active at care farms and that the activities that they did were more intensive, which the author concludes is more beneficial for those with dementia.
- In light of the first result, it is unsurprising that older people at care farms have a significantly higher dietary intake of energy, carbohydrates and fluids than those at traditional day care.
- Disappointingly, the study did not find any change in cognitive functioning, emotional wellbeing or behaviour among the care farming group or the day care group.
- Likewise, no change was observed in functional performance (the ability to perform basic activities of daily living) or the incidence of illness and use of medications. The conclusion is that care farms are no more effective in maintaining functioning or slowing its decline that other day care services.
- Finally, both care farms and traditional day care have the same effect on carers and their quality of life and emotional distress.
It is great to see that the first two findings support what we see everyday here on the farm. We even wrote about the idea of a ‘green gym’ a few weeks ago. Of the other results, the lack of change in emotional wellbeing is the most surprising to us. The Countrymen’s Club is a much more targeted project for those more familiar with farming and the countryside than may be the case in this study, and so we firmly believe that we will see more profound changes than those reported here.
If you’re interested in care farming in the Netherlands, and your Dutch is up to the challenge, then head over to the website of the Federatie Landbouw en Zorg.