Care home residents embrace snakes during animal therapy session

Care home residents were given a real hiss-story lesson after getting up close and personal with snakes and other reptiles during an animal therapy session.

They enjoyed the company of 'fearsome' creatures including a boa constrictor, a water dragon and a Madagascar hissing cockroach.

The fearless 20 residents of Bupa Arkley Care Home, in Barnet, embraced other animals including a gecko and giant African millipede, brought in by a trained handler.

Though the reptiles might not look endearing, the animal therapy sessions are actually designed to introduce the seniors to new experiences and boost their mental health.

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Sarah Mair, home manager at Bupa Arkley Care Home, said: "You wouldn't expect a sweet old lady to be front of the queue to have her photo with a snake, but our residents are a fearless bunch.

"We host animal therapy sessions regularly and they always get a great response.

"Some people are apprehensive to start, but they end up with a smile on their face and a snake on their shoulders."

Betty Asprey, 92, who held a boa constrictor, said: "I've always been a cat person, so never gave snakes a thought until I moved into this home.

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"Growing up we were always taught to be frightened of them, but after today I'm not.

"It was actually very sweet and not scary at all. I never thought I'd change my mind at this age, but I'm glad I did."

It is not the first time the home has organised animal visits for residents, with colleagues previously welcoming dogs, cats, a rabbit – and even a tarantula.

Animal therapy has been shown to improve the mental health of older people and can help mitigate feelings of stress of agitation.

It is particularly effective for those who become withdrawn from social situations – a common result of hearing loss or dementia – as the shared bond goes beyond verbal communication.

Sarah Mair added: "There's a misconception that life in a care home is all bingo and knitting, but in reality it's much more fun.

"When residents can't get out and about, it's our job to bring the world to them.

"I only started working in care five years ago, and before that I'd never had expected to see this kind of thing in a care home.

"Working in the trade though it's totally different – if it makes our residents smile we'll find a way to make it happen."

The home is now thinking about other animals it can bring in to meet guests – and are currently exploring options to bring in a miniature pony.

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