Snail farming is providing a unique new way for carers to interact with people with dementia.
Careship Coorong, located in south eastern South Australia, is a social care farm for people living with dementia and other social care needs. As the name suggests, the concept is based on the therapeutic use of a working farm for social support.
Participants become part of the farm team and help with jobs and activities including feeding animals, harvesting, planting, watering and checking fences.
Chairperson and farm operator Claudia Ait-Touati says working on the farm gives life new meaning for people with dementia.
“It gives a different meaning to their role. We find it shifts the person from being a patient or client or a care recipient to a worker on a farm,” she told Community Care Review.
Careship Coorong has received funding from Australia Post for the Silver Trails snail farm pilot project for people with dementia to work on the farm.
The program is for people with dementia, but carers are also welcome and enjoy their time on the farm as much as their clients, Ms Ait-Touati says.
“Feedback that we’ve had from support workers has been very positive,” she said.
“What we’re trying to encourage is that the farm is a workplace. Participants are not clients but they are workers, so we try to use the language as much as we can as they have in the workplace.
“So we have knock off time and that kind of stuff and that helps participants very much to feel like they’re actually working and they’re contributing to the community.”
Always work for everyone
The day is spent working in the farm or garden. Lunches are provided by local school kids, who come to the farm to prepare the lunches and stick around to play games and quizzes with the participants.
Any farm job that needs to be done can be done by participants, except for mowing and tasks involving chemicals.
“It gives interesting activity for farm participants because the work is fairly simple. It’s just a couple of steps but it’s quite labour intensive,” Ms Ait-Touati says.
“There’s a lot of different steps that need to be done to keep the snails happy so there’s always work for everyone but not a lot of machinery, so the perfect farm activity for people.”
Working on the farm provides participants with the ‘social connection’ they may have lost after being diagnosed with dementia.
Several participants who struggled with their daily life said they found it calming to listen to the snails, Ms Ait-Touati said.
“I didn’t realise you could actually listen to the snails, but we sat down one morning and it was quite interesting to hear them munching, so it was interesting to hear that they love doing that.”
The Silver Trails program is an extension of a program the social care farm currently runs for people with intellectual disabilities, which has had great benefits for socialisation and improving behavior problems.
The program had two young people attending the program. They were struggling in school and were about to drop out.
“They came to the farm for a year and that changed their pathway a little bit. They stayed at school after that, and both of them finished school,” Ms Ait-Touati said.
She hopes to eventually receive more funding for the farm to pay staff and have a more secure continuation of the program. At the moment, all staff are volunteers.
“We just hope that if we can get funding to pay someone to run the farm full time it makes it a lot easier for them to come when it suits them, rather than us opening half a day here and there,” Ms Ait-Touati said.