Dementia care at a snail’s pace

By Melissa Keogh

Snails are often considered as either a garden pest or a French delicacy.

But volunteers from a free range snail farm in South Australia’s Murray Mallee say the small creatures are helping to provide hope for people with intellectual disabilities and dementia.

Volunteer-run organisation, Careship Coorong, attracts about 10 people to its snail farm in Coonalpyn every week to help breed, feed and harvest the small gastropods.

Many of the farm helpers have intellectual disabilities but from August, dementia patients from Alzheimer’s Australia SA will visit the remote farm once a fortnight.

The country town care farm is the first of its kind in Australia, but the concept is popular in Europe and the US.

Careship Coorong is home to 10,000 snails.

Careship Coorong is home to 10,000 snails.

Care farms provide an alternative to traditional aged care homes, allowing people living with dementia to be outdoors, interact with others in a relaxed environment and engage with their senses.

People living with dementia often experience memory loss, social withdrawal and can lose the ability to perform everyday tasks.

Careship Coorong co-ordinator Claudia Ait-Touati first learnt of the concept when her father was diagnosed with dementia and attended a care farm in the Netherlands.

Volunteers and farm helpers tend to plants –the perfect feeding ground for snails.

Volunteers and farm helpers tend to plants – the perfect feeding ground for snails.

She says care farms help boost self esteem and confidence.

“We have seen massive improvements in happiness and they are proud of what they achieve on the farm and it gives them more confidence,” Claudia says.

Careship Coorong helpers tend to the snails across four fields and carry out “odd jobs” such as weeding and making sure the slow creatures don’t escape their garden beds.

The organisation launched in 2011, and three years later Careship Coorong snagged Alzheimer’s Australia’s SA Excellence in Dementia Care Community Award.

Garden beds feature leafy greens such as cabbage and broccoli.

Garden beds feature leafy greens such as cabbage and broccoli.

The farm is run by a handful of volunteers and one part-time employee.

It is home to about 10,000 snails which feed on leafy greens such as cabbages or broccoli, but hibernate in summer and winter.

While Careship Coorong does not yet sell its snails, Claudia says she hoped to soon tap into the gourmet food market by launching the first line of snail pâté in 2018.

Snails – or escargot – are a delicacy in many countries, particularly France.

“Snails are calming, quite easy to care for and just beautiful to watch,” Claudia says.

“People say it’s very relaxing.”

Need to talk to someone about dementia? Call the National Dementia Helpline 1800 100 500.

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