Science - December 7, 2009

Demented aged at care farms have better appetites

Demented old people who receive daycare in care farms eat and drink more than demented old people in normal daycare centres. Demented men are the ones mostly present at care farms, which take over the care of this group from care-givers within the home, mostly their wives.

These are the conclusions of PhD student Simone de Bruin of the Animal Production Systems Group of Wageningen University. She compared the health of demented aged in care farms and in normal daycare centres. In her research, the thirty demented old men in a care farm ate and drank more than the 23 demented in a normal daycare centre, most of whom are women. Even after she had accounted for the differences in food consumption between men and women in her statistic analysis methods, the care farm group still scored significantly better. 'This is an important finding, because many demented elderly people suffer from dehydration, unwanted weight loss and malnutrition.'
Earlier research has suggested that the nature and the homely surroundings on the care farm could also help in the areas of cognitive functioning, behaviour problems and emotional well-being of the elderly. But De Bruin is not able to show that mental deterioration of the aged on the care farm is slower than those in the normal care facilities. This is partly because she had only a small number of elderly in her comparison.
So far, about a thousand care farms have been set up in the Netherlands. Ten percent of these provide day programmes for demented elderly people. In 2006, these admitted about a thousand elderly people, but this number is climbing quickly, says De Bruin. 'On the farm, they can take part in various activities, such as feeding the animals, gardening, taking walks and cooking. Their day is varied and meaningful, and the care-givers at home can have some time for themselves.'
Normal care facilities mostly organize activities in small rooms which have insufficient space for the elderly to move about. Demented men hardly take part in such activities; however, they are drawn to farm visits. De Bruin will graduate on 9 December under Professor Akke van de Zijpp.

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