Memory Care Corral Assists those with Alzheimer’s

By Mary Beth Roach

Jill Brule stands with her mother Mary Woiler during their participation last winter in the Memory Care Corral program in Chittenango. The program was developed in collaboration with experts in Alzheimer’s disease, aging and equine therapy. It offers respite for patients and their caregivers.

When 92-year-old Mary Woiler and her daughter, Jill Brule, travel from their homes in Fayetteville to take part in the Memory Care Corral program in Chittenango, the pair spends time in the stable, grooming the horses, sometimes walking with the animals or watching them out in the corral area. Woiler has been known to nuzzle up to the miniature now and again.

The visits are very soothing for both mom and daughter.

“It just completely takes her out of her day-to-day problems and anxieties and stress,” Brule said. “I took mom for her sake, but I enjoy it, too.”

Woiler has had a long-time affinity for horses, having taken riding lessons during her teen years in Port Chester. She even rode competitively and earned ribbons, Brule said.

To offer people with memory challenges and their caregivers some respite is at the core of the Memory Care Corral program.

Located at and in partnership with ARISE at the Farm it offers individuals with dementia, Alzheimer’s or memory issues, along with their caregivers, 90-minute guided sessions during which they engage in non-riding activities, so no horse-handling experience is required. Another partner of the Memory Care Corral is the Central New York chapter of Alzheimer’s Association.

The program was developed over the last two years by the Athelda Fund, which was created by Sandra Martin in honor of her mother, Athelda Hogrefe, who had a lifelong love of horses and had lived with Alzheimer’s disease for many years. When Athelda died in 2003, Martin pointed out that many donors in the Central New York area contributed to the fund and it is administered by the Central New York Community Foundation.

“It is a unique program developed in collaboration with experts in Alzheimer’s disease, aging and equine therapy in Virginia, California and Central New York. It is based on national research, showing the effectiveness of equine-assisted activities for those living with memory loss and their caregivers,” Martin said.

As Rebecca Schafer, inclusive recreation coordinator at ARISE At The Farm, pointed out, “Horses provide a unique perspective that traditional therapy animals such as dogs and cats cannot provide. Horses are prey animals and because of this they are very aware of their surroundings and the energy around them. Horses will be able to feel if you are relaxed, anxious, tense, etc. and they will mirror those emotions.”

If Schafer has a participant who is tense and distracted, the horse will sense that and become fidgety, so she works with the participant through a relaxation exercise while they handle the horse and ask them to look for signs that the horse is starting
to relax.

“When a participant performs a relaxation exercise and then sees the horse release its own tension, they can have the visible reassurance that the exercise is working. And for individuals who are apprehensive to try different strategies to help themselves they may be more inclined to do something to help the horse. Participants are then able to bring home the strategies that they learn with the horses to help with reducing anxiety and stress for both the caregiver and the individual living with dementia,” she explained.

For Brule, the sessions are “very gratifying.”

Four Sessions Offered in August

Four sessions with the Memory Care Corral will be offered in August and run Friday mornings, Aug. 4 through 25. The cost is $10 per person. Registration is required and can be done by calling (315) 671-2974 or emailing