THE residents and staff of Whiddon Aged Care Maclean and a couple of Chinese silky chickens are busy proving a theory that could change some practices in the field.
Chickens Roberta and Henrietta are key players in a trial program examining the health and well-being benefits associated with looking after chooks in residential aged care homes.
The HenPower program involves about Whiddon 30 residents, as well as staff, family members and volunteers across four locations. The residents were selected according to their interest in the program and include some who have dementia.
“HenPower is much more than the novelty of having a few chooks to keep people company,” Whiddon strategy and research executive general manager Karn Nelson said.
“It has a much deeper resonance in effectively tackling health issues and improving well-being for older Australians, as demonstrated in the research.”
Ms Nelson said early indications are that the practical aspects of hen keeping, combined with the pet-like bonds that have developed between residents and their hens has significant benefits to overall well-being.
Jenny Pratten, director of care services at Whiddon Aged Care Maclean said there was some science in their choice of hens.
“Our wonderful volunteer and hen whisperer, Rob, chose them for their placid and cuddly nature and purchased them for us,” she said.
“They’re both white and very fluffy but currently pastel pink in colour after being bathed by residents and staff with a few drops of food colouring.”
Ms Pratten said the chickens have been at the centre for two months.
Henny and Bertie have quickly settled into their surrounds and live in stylish, artist-decorated lodgings.
“It’s a tin chicken coop, we’ve had it painted by a local artist Linda Elmir,” Ms Pratten said.
“ She asked whether we wanted a classic American hen house or a classic Aussie hen house.
“Of course we choose the Aussie option. I told her ‘I’m sure it’ll be fabulous, whatever you do’.
“The coop is brightly painted and reads ‘Welcome to Henrietta and Roberta’s Hen House’.”
Whiddon resident Ruth Causley is among those who have relished the opportunity to care for the chickens.
“I think it’s a good idea to have the chickens here, it gives us something new to enjoy,” she said.
“It’s lovely to hold them and I think she (Bertie) enjoys it. They’re pretty little things.”
Jenny said the arrival of the chickens at the centre had immediate benefits for most residents.
“For residents in our dementia wing the addition of the chooks into their daily lives brings an additional sense of purpose,” she said.
“The men spend quite a bit of time out in the garden now, letting the chooks out or rounding them up, patting them, feeding them, generally just enjoying them.
“For the rest of our residents, the impact has also been quite profound because they can either see them through their windows and enjoy them throughout the day, or visit the garden and hold or spend time with the chooks.”
Ms Pratten said the chickens also seem to be appreciating the attention.
“They’re just very gentle and happy to be with us,” she said.
“The other day, Lionel, a resident, was just sitting in the garden with one chook settled at his feet and the other perched next to him on the chair and he was just gently patting that chook – they had come to him and they were all just so calm and absorbed in the moment.”