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First ever alpaca visit benefits patients on Edgcumbe dementia ward

by | 19th May 2024 | News

It is not every day you see alpacas on a hospital ward. This week, Wayfarer and Thunderball from Lakemoor Alpacas visited the Edgcumbe unit on the Mount Gould Hospital site in Plymouth.

Edgcumbe is a specialist mental health unit providing short term assessment and care for people suffering from dementia problems such as Alzheimer’s Disease. This type of illness causes progressive decline in cognition, memory and in social skills. Most of the patients in the eleven-bed unit are aged over 65 but the team offer support to people regardless of age.

The aim of the alpaca visit is to enrich the lives of people on the unit and to provide social interaction. Communication can be really challenging for patients as they are at different stages within their dementia journey. By bringing in animals, there is lots of stimulation without it being a noisy environment and patients are able to connect without the need for verbal communication.

Occupational therapist Louise Meyrick said: “We have had loads of animals on the ward in our time, but we have never had alpacas before. It has been absolutely fantastic. It is lovely seeing the joy on the patients’ faces. Interacting with animals is always a nice, calming experience. Patients can reminisce about pets they may have owned or animals they may have encountered in the past.”

Wayfarer and Thunderball visited from Lakemoor Alpacas on Dartmoor. Owner Mark Norman who accompanied them, said: “It is something special, something really different and really enriches the lives of people in this sort of setting. People’s faces light up when they see the alpacas. Staff and patients can hand feed them and stroke them. They can also listen to the noises they make as the alpacas call to each other.”

Ward Manager Fleur Varney said: “It is an opportunity for the whole ward team to have fun and engage with patients, enabling communication via non-verbal means.  At Edgcumbe we look to have activities that enrich our patients’ admissions. As some can be with us for many months, we try hard to ensure that we support both the patient and their families and carers to share in these activities and enjoy time together. We see our patients relaxing and benefiting enormously from these animal interactions. It is lovely when we hear our patients recalling these experiences and reliving the joy they felt during these visits.”

One fawn alpaca, one black alpaca on hospital ward