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"Geriatric Veterans with cognitive deficits often struggle with feelings of being an observer of their own life. The very nature of Alzheimer's, dementia's, parkinson's threatens to rob a person of their individuality, of their personal memories and ability to meaningfully connect with others. Many of their daily choices, and that of their family members are now decided and acted out by medical staff persons. And while healthcare has come a long way in becoming person centered and "Homelike", which are measures to be appreciated- truly living in the moment, celebrating one's life as it presently is- remains a dim glow in everyday skilled nursing care.
Humans have an innate desire to belong, be a part of something bigger than themselves. And the need, perhaps especially for Veterans - to know they are making a difference. When our Veterans feel they are connected, making a difference, that is when the dim glow becomes a spark, a flame!
So when our aging Veterans roll onto Willow Equine, submerged in an environment that both comforts and energizes, a subtle reminder of home and the independence of their youth ... Eagala becomes the perfect catalyst for what our Veterans need most. The ability to connect and be present. An opening to just be. No judgment, no confusion, no power struggle. Simply the opportunity to bask in the presence of a large animal that seems to accept them as they are. The ability to meaningfully impact their environment.
Willow Equine allows the Veteran to bask in sensory stimulation ... enjoy the warm beams of sunshine that rest upon cheekbones, or catch a whiff of honeysuckle while being serenaded by a chorus of birds chirping. Simple freedoms such as these are a gentle reminder of all that Veterans, and their family members, sacrifice to protect our homeland and the liberties offered to all residing here. Despite the magnitude of what these Veterans faced in combat, a trip to the farm leaves them filled with gratitude. They understand that these simple freedoms are anything but simple.
The bus ride back to the VA is traditionally bursting with both enthusiastic chatter and a calm confidence of knowing their morning mattered. And the question is always the same "when are we going back?"
Terri Gilbeau, CTRS
VA Medical Center, Salisbury, North Carolina