Alzheimer's and dementia patients incur an end-of-life experience that differs markedly from their care-givers. They traverse in two different worlds which might be parallel, but often don't allow them to connect as they once did. While set schedules and antipsychotic drugs are prescribed my many physicians, the idea of adding fun and animals to one's regimen is relatively new.
In a recent AARP report, one unconventional approach is seeing significant results with some late-stage Alzheimer's patient. 95-year old Laura Damuck who lives at the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley in Littleton, Massachusetts has come to know the comfort of the llama.
The docile creature known as Travis lives in-residence at this rural nursing home and is seen here with resident Marie Waite.
Damuck, according to her daughter Linda Valentine will "smile and laugh," even when "she doesn't recognize it's a llama." The caretakers are known to sometimes leads the llamas through the halls and into the Alzheimer’s unit, where even residents who relentlessly wander stop to pet the regal creatures.
The center's executive director Ellen Levinson, whose two golden retrievers often greet visitors at the front door notes that animals have a calming effect on their patients The walls of the 27-bed Alzheimer's unit are filled with photos of animals while bird feeders hang adjacent to nearly all the facility's windows.
Oddly enough llamas can go beyond emotional support for these elderly patients. Current
medical research has indicated that "single-domain antibodies" has potential use in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. And these antibodies are derived from llamas's VHH domain antibodies. Their antibodies are much smaller than humans which allows them to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) where certain dementia drugs can be administered. This research indicates that patient that have a history of Alzheimer's or those that are in the early stages can benefit the most.
The Roche Institute has launched a 3-year project to develop the new diagnostic tools and immunological probes to detect the characteristic proteins in the brain of an Alzheimer's patient to advance this research.
Pierre Lafaye of the Pasteur Institute says, "thanks to fragment of antibodies produced by the body of the lama, associated with a product of contrast, we hope to be able to visualize lesions in the brain."
With Alzheimer's disease affecting more that 5.1 million Americans and an estimated 26 million worldwide, it's comforting to know that the "circle of life" does truly exist and that if humans can benefit from one animal species, perhaps there are hundreds of others that might help us cure not only Alzheimer's but other forms of cancers. God save the llamas. Not only are they senior-citizen-friendly, they come part and parcel with what might ail you later in life.
Actress and humanitarian Susan Sarandon hugs a llama pal for Heifer International (Can anyone resist a marketing campaign that features these photogenic Andean camelids?)
Actress Susan Sarandon is promoting an organization that battles world hunger by donating dairy cows and other farm animals to subsistence farmers. It’s a simple idea and one that really can help ease poverty in areas where people struggle to nourish themselves. If you have ever visited the puna in Peru, you have seen for yourself how disadvantaged people in far-flung regions scrape by on the paltriest amounts of food.
Susan Sarandon Actress and activist
One thing that could help relieve stress and reduce conflict would be if the poorest people on the planet, the one billion of us living on less than a dollar a day, could have hope for a brighter future - better nutrition, better livelihoods so their kids can have better diets as they grow up, clean water, education, and enough income so they have the few dollars it takes to prevent a child from dying of malaria.
Simple, basic needs being met. This goes to the heart of many of the stresses that lead to strife. One of my favorite charities, Heifer International, is addressing the problem in more than 50 countries around the world, working to help subsistence farmers who are living below the poverty line improve their farm production and have sustainable sources of food. In my trips overseas I saw the choices people are forced to make.
I saw how difficult it is to get a toehold to lift yourself up from poverty because you're always struggling to feed yourself one more day. Heifer provides a toehold. It gives people a dairy cow or goat that helps them feed themselves and have a little income. That's all they need to get the little push to lift themselves up.
And then they become responsible for helping lift up a neighbor through "Passing on the Gift" of offspring of their animals and training to others in their communities.
And they do this while helping the environment and building community. And it costs so little! It's just the best possible solution to the problem of hunger.
Donate animals to poor countries through the Heifer International charity. Support an international non-profit world hunger organization.
Alternative Treatments for Dementia