Patients at Livewell Southwest’s Mount Gould Hospital are benefiting from the therapeutic presence of donkeys on the ward.
Plym unit is a specialist rehabilitation service for people aged 16 and over who have suffered brain or spinal cord injuries or other neurological conditions.
And once a month the dedicated team of consultant, specialty doctor, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, neuropsychologists and social workers is joined by donkeys from the Donkey Sanctuary at Ivybridge, who perform their own special therapy.
Katie Stokes, occupational therapy trainee, invited the sanctuary team after hearing about the therapy donkeys’ work and discussing it with colleagues on the unit.
“Donkeys are such special animals, and it’s amazing the way our patients respond to them. People can be with us for up to six months, which is a long time for them and their families. The donkey visits are a break in routine, a sign of life beyond the hospital, especially for those who have pets at home. Everyone gets excited.”
The therapy donkeys are specially chosen by the sanctuary team for their calm temperament and patience, and this calmness is catching. Katie said: “We have anxious patients who are instantly calmed when they meet the donkeys. It’s soothing to touch the fur and it’s relaxing just to be near a donkey.”
Staff say patients with very limited arm movement are stimulated to reach out to touch the donkeys, and the visits inspire others who struggle with communication to engage.
The benefits extend beyond the visit. Katie said: “We talk about the visit before it happens, and use it to stimulate conversation and memory. There’s the visit itself, where patients, staff and visitors join in and it becomes a social experience, which is a really important element of rehabilitation. We’re preparing people to leave hospital after all. Then we talk about the visit when it’s over, using photos we’ve taken and printed to stimulate memories and communication.”
The donkeys go onto the ward in cold or wet weather, but this week patients and donkeys enjoyed the sunshine – and grass – outside the unit.
Alex, a 20-year-old who has been at Plym for many months following an accident, was able to reach out and touch Jayjay the donkey’s nose, then surprised and delighted everyone by holding a grooming brush. Her mum said: “This is just wonderful. Alex has horses, and these visits are hugely stimulating for her.”
A more mobile patient was happily chatting to the sanctuary team while brushing Paddy, remembering the donkeys who live near his home. “It’s wonderful,” he said.
Find out more about Plym Neurological Rehabilitation Unit here.