Research Alert: Creepy Crawling Pet Animals Are Helping People With Dementia

Kris Freeman is an animal enthusiast who is the owner and founder of the Tropical Discovery Workshop, offering interactive and educational wildlife workshops to schools, parties and nursing homes across the UK.

Kris, who hails from Wiltshire, is passionate about animals and he is known to surround himself with them daily. He revealed that he is living with approximately 400 of them in his home.

crawling animals help people suffering from dementia

He told a leading media house that he has got over a couple of hundred stick insects, a couple of hundred cockroaches of different species, Madagascan hissers and feeder cockroaches. He further added that he also has giant millipedes, giant snails, giant centipedes - Scolopendras, etc.

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His list of animals and reptiles did not seem to end as he added some more animals and said: "I have tailless whip scorpions, a handful of those. Must have round about 12 tarantulas, we've managed to get the numbers down a little bit. Must have around about 18 snakes at the moment. A parrot, a couple of bearded dragons, crested geckos, a couple of leopard geckos, white tree Frogs. I'm bound to have forgotten something!"

With these many animals, Kris reveals on how he uses the animals to help people suffering from dementia to recover!

He also stated: "I started Tropical Discovery Workshops mainly because of my friend as he worked at my daughter's school at the time. She said 'we have a guy come with animals, as you have got - but you're interacting with the children, and maybe that's the sort of thing you should do."

"I started from scratch, and this is six years later and going strong! Loving it and I couldn't imagine doing anything else now."

Kris began taking a variety of insects and reptiles to care homes for the elderly as part of an entertainment scheme.

He explained: "I started taking them into care homes because when the resident has got maybe a couple of games a day and watching TV, I thought it must get quite annoying for them to be either bed-bound or chair-bound or not have a great deal to do because of their old age, unfortunately."

"So I thought it would be great to introduce them to some of the animals to see how they got on with them. So I phoned up a care home in Trowbridge, and they said 'yep this is great, come on in, we'll see how it goes', and they ended up booking me every two months."

"To see the joy in their face learning about something that they have never even seen before, or heard of before, but getting to hold something in front of them. It just gave me more of a thrill than it gave them!"

"Now I do more care homes than I do birthday parties or schools. It tends to be my main role now, and I love it."

Not only are the workshops good entertainment for the elderly residents, but they are also a form of stimulation therapy. Kris will encourage them to pet the different types of insects, reptiles and other creepy crawlies.

Kris said: "It actually has something walk across their hand, especially when they're sight impaired, to have a millipede - giant millipede - walk across the side and feel hundreds of legs, or to have a snake in their hand, feel the way a snake feels and the scales as it moves through their hands or back of their neck."

"To speak to them and say 'how does it feel? What is it like?' and the way they explain they have never felt anything like that before, it's that sort of stimulation. They are feeling something which is quite stimulating, the textures."

"I find that this does help, the way they speak about it, they enjoy it. To me, it's a therapy. If they are happy and enjoying it, then that's therapy to me."

Kris' work has had immediate effects on the elderly, and he receives amazing reactions from the residents as well.

He said: "There was one occasion, a gentleman who was bed bound. Didn't speak, didn't talk to the staff. They told me he had only ever been known to intervene when someone had his or her dog in the care home, and the gentlemen spoke to the dog, and they were amazed."

"I do this thing where I don't like to stay in the main lounge with residents, I would say to them if there's anyone who is bed bound or stuck in their room and can't come down to the couch, I'm quite happy to come to their place because I don't want them to miss out."

"So I went to this gentleman's room with Steven the milk snake and I sat on the edge of this bed with this gentleman, who is very limited in his mobility, and I helped him to stroke the snake, thinking 'I'm hoping he is enjoying this', because there wasn't much reaction - and then he started speaking."

"The activities coordinator broke down in tears a little bit. She said it was the first time she had ever heard him speak and he was talking to the snake, and he was asking what its name was and 'you are a lovely snake', and it just knocked me back a little bit, first of all, it's just beautiful to watch."

"But besides that, I have found that many residents who have dementia, these animals can bring out some nurturing side to them. I've had residents who have been stroking a bearded dragon break down in tears and start calling it one of their old dog's names, and it's almost like it's free memory."

Leanne Sims is an activities coordinator at the Goodson Lodge Care Centre in Trowbridge, a care home that Kris regularly visits.

She said: "It gives them a purpose. It gives them something to look forward to. Something to enjoy. Living with dementia can be difficult as we all know, but when Kris has been, even when they don't remember their experience they still have that feeling of the enjoyment."

"They have done something of purpose for their wellbeing. So it can bring them out of their shell a bit."

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Kris concluded: "I mean yeah if I end up in a nursing home I'm hopefully going to have a room full of my animals as well, and I will still be doing this. I want to do this as long as I can. As long as I can educate people or give people enjoyment, then I'm going to keep going as long as I can. As long as I can. I can't see me stopping this at all."

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    Read more about: life research videos
    Story first published: Tuesday, July 24, 2018, 15:28 [IST]
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