How pigs are getting pensioners to open up

Fri Mar 11, 2011 11:10pm EST
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By Stephane Nitschke

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany (Reuters Life!) - Residents of senior homes here are often sceptical when Daan Vermeulen walks through the door with his pig grunting by his side.

But, the physiotherapist tells Reuters, such apprehension is necessary for his work to be successful.

Vermeulen practices an odd form of physical therapy -- he lets senior citizens and children with emotional and behavioral problems feed, groom and dress up pigs as a way of making uninterested patients more receptive to therapy.

The pigs are not always welcomed at first by patients, which Vermeulen takes as a good sign.

"Fear is good at times," the Dutchman said. "I think whoever begins with a fear of animals has the possibility to develop and eventually be able to feed or groom the animal without angst. That would be enormous progress."

Vermeulen has two pigs he uses for therapy: Felix and Rudi. They are miniature pigs, which typically weigh less than 68 kilos (150 lbs) and are often used in medical research.

Pigs project calm to edgy seniors and get them to move about, helping their deteriorating motor skills, he said. They act as a kind of social lubricant for patients with psychological and concentration problems.

Vermeulen started using pigs four years ago when it helped an elderly patient embrace physical therapy.   Continued...