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Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory uses “Bird Tales” program to help senior center residents

By Crystal Nelson

BRIGHTON — Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory is teaming up with Inglenook assisted living facility to implement a new therapeutic program called Bird Tales. The program aims to improve the quality of life for residents who are experiencing dementia by encouraging them to connect with birds on a multi-sensory level.

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During RMBO’s Nov. 25 visit to the assisted living facility, residents were listening to and  identifying bird songs, calls and vocalizations. RMBO Community Education Coordinator Tyler Edmondson said the senses have the power to recall memory.

“The senses themselves tend to have different attachments to memories than typical just words or stories, so the senses actually brings those things out,” he said. “It’s also one of those things that studies are showing interactions with nature do in fact have therapeutic properties that actually does tend to improve attitude, it tends to improve behavior, it tends to improve people’s depression... and so, this is one of those things that if we can start to have people experience nature, even in a simple way, it is going to benefit their lives.”

Bird Tales was originally started by Ken Elkins, Education Program Manager of Audubon Center at Bent of the River in Connecticut, last year. This year, RMBO is partnering with Elkins and will receive $5,000 in funding from them to get the program started in Colorado. RMBO is also working to implement the program at Northlenn Heights in Northglenn and St. Andrew’s Village in Aurora. 

RMBO has had an educational program with Inglenook’s general population for quite some time, according to Edmondson. As a result, they’ve been able to add bird feeders, benches and gardens for residents to utilize. Now that Bird Tales is kicking off, he’s seeing residents from that program interacting with patients with dementia and help in group discussions. 

Care Services Director Becky Elkerton said the program is really popular with the residents and has proven to be therapeutic thus far. 

“When you have dementia, you don’t have a lot of peace,” she said. “There’s a lot of chaos and stuff stuck in your head and when you can just relax and watch the birds, you find peace.” 

Edmondson said the program also has a few other outcomes such as building relationships with the facilities, improving bird habitat around the facilities. After the program has been fully developed and implemented into the facilities, RMBO will be handing it over to the staff.