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Four-legged fellowship

It’s 10 am on a Monday, and Sprite and Cocoa are the center of attention at Moonlight Bay, a 32-bed dementia and Alzheimer’s community at Northern Light Continuing Care, Lakewood. Cocoa, a black Nigerian dwarf goat in a gray spotted onesie, gently leaps from lap to lap. Sprite, a white dwarf goat who like Cocoa is about the size of a terrier, has stopped to bottle feed with a resident who beams at the chance to provide the goat with a morning meal.

Cocoa and Sprite call the Waterville continuing care facility home, at least for the spring, summer, and fall of 2019. Ask any of the staff on Moonlight Bay, and they’ll tell you that while the goats are adorable and can immediately elevate the mood of a room, they’re much more than a novelty. They play an important role in making Lakewood feel like home for the residents.

“The residents get to hold them, feed them, and love on them. They think of them as their own pets, and it reminds them of when they were younger and what they used to do,” says Makayla Boucher, a CNA who works at Moonlight Bay.

The decision to adopt goats started with staff asking, “why not?” At Lakewood, staff are encouraged to think outside the box and help residents experience things that may have brought joy to their lives when they lived independently. For example, in the warmer months, residents gather eggs and feed the chickens at a chicken coop located right on the Lakewood campus. And each summer, thanks to the generosity of donors, Lakewood residents spend two nights in an oceanfront cottage in Belfast. They go fishing, shop at Reny’s, and visit local restaurants.

“We’re always trying to come up with something new,” says Vicki Dyer, LPN, nurse manager and program director at Moonlight Bay. “If somebody mentions something they used to do; we work on it and think, ‘what can we do, can we make this happen?’ We should do everything we can to make it special in the last days of their lives.”

Helping residents be more active and engaged not only improves their quality of life, it helps staff more fully address residents’ individual needs. This was a key strategy in Lakewood’s effort to eliminate the use of antipsychotic medication at Moonlight Bay. In fact, it’s been nearly 10 years since antipsychotics have been used on the dementia and Alzheimer’s unit. It’s an achievement that Lakewood has been recognized for at the national level.

“We realize that when residents are doing something that some people consider challenging behaviors; they’re thirsty, they’re hungry, they need to go to the bathroom, or they may be in pain,” adds Vicki. “They know that something is wrong, they just can’t put it into words. It’s our job, as professionals, to figure out what they need.”

Some of the ideas that have enhanced residents’ lives at Lakewood have caught on nationally. There hasn’t been significant research to measure how this approach to engaging residents is making a difference. However, Lakewood staff see the benefits every day as their residents’ faces light up when Cocoa and Sprite come by for a visit.

“Oh, the smiles. They just smile all over,” adds Vicki. “They get so happy when they get to pat them and watch them. They laugh. They beam all over.”