Birds Provide Focus, Distraction, for the Memory-Impaired

September 17th, 2018
Peter Mosheim and his wife Marion, a Cypen Towers resident, pose by the bird-filled aviary Mr. Mosheim donated to Hazel Cypen Tower's Memory Support floor.

MIAMI – They’re more than just a pretty sight.

The colorful finches in the picturesque aviary on the second floor of Hazel Cypen Tower (HCT) are a continual source of entertainment and escape for everyone who walks by.

Miami resident Peter Mosheim donated the birds and aviary to HCT’s Memory Support floor after his wife Marion moved to the building’s third floor. Because Marion also suffers from memory issues, Mosheim wanted to do something to help.

His answer came in the form of wings.

“What happened is very simple. While I was renovating the apartment Marion has, I was talking to (the assistant executive director of senior living) and looking at the aviary downstairs in the lobby,” Mosheim said. “She made some kind of a comment about how she would love to have one on the second floor. I said, ‘Well, you got one.’”

Bird Watching Helps Keep Residents Engaged and Interested

A Gouldian or Rainbow Finch sits on a perch in the aviary on the second floor of Hazel Cypen Tower. The birds are a source of delight to the memory-impaired residents.

Studies continue to prove the powerful stress-reducing capabilities of animals. In an institutional setting, the effect can be dramatic. Connecting with nature can help reduce feelings of anxiety and loneliness.

The Alzheimer’s Association suggests keeping our brains healthy by always learning new things. That’s where the birds and their activities come in. Continued learning can help form new neural paths that can help fight back against diseases like Alzheimer’s, other forms of dementia and Parkinson’s. 

Caregivers make a point of talking to residents about the birds and discussing them. It keeps them engaged.

Resident Carol Hood, 85, keeps busy by providing the birds with fresh food and water twice a day. The birds give her purpose and joy, she said.

“My mind was always on the birds. They can do everything we can’t. That’s one of the reasons I was a flight attendant. I wanted to fly like a bird,” Hood said. She also tends to a second aviary on the first floor of HCT.

Some of the birds Mosheim donated are especially stunning: the Gouldian Finches, also known as Painted or Rainbow Finches, are lime green, yellow, purple, blue and red. The birds are native to northern Australia and endangered in their natural habitat. Their vibrant colors are a constant source of conversation on the second floor.

Inside the aviary, finches fly from perch to perch, dart inside little houses and then flitter back out.They hop along a hanging perch then fly to the wire mesh sides of the cage.

Their constant chirping sounds like the drone of a high-pitched harmonica. It’s hard to walk away.

“We’re so excited. We think we’re having fancy babies. Those colorful birds are hard to breed,” said Leslee Geller, Assistant Executive Director for Senior Living. “The residents love them. And what they love the most is when the babies are in the nest and you can see them peeking out.”

Aviary Offers Peaceful Focal Point for Residents, Visitors

Two different Finches show off their colors in the custom-made aviary on the second floor of Hazel Cypen Tower. The aviary was donated by Peter Mosheim, whose wife Marion also lives in HCT.

Chrystine Kopcsik, EmpathiCare Program Manager, said bird watching provides our memory-impaired residents with peace and joy and gives them something from nature to connect with.

“It’s helpful when someone is agitated. It definitely is a diverting activity and it just generally makes them smile,” Kopcsik said. “The residents really enjoy them. They are excited because we are going to have babies soon. We talk about birds and reminisce. They just enjoy seeing them fly around.”

The wood frame aviary has a glass door and glass sides, a solid wooden back decorated with artificial flowers and screening along the top side panels. The birds are visible from three sides.

It was built by a carpenter in Nebraska who transported the aviary and birds cross-country to HCT.

“That is the first place the family members want to go. When they are visiting, they go sit by the birds so they can sit with their family and have something to talk about,” said Greg L’Heureux, owner of Oak Creek Aviaries, in Campbell, NE, who built and delivered the aviary.

Mosheim is modest about his impact of his gift.

“With Alzheimers patients I felt … they are going to be distracted from problems. It’s something different for them. I just think it’s good therapy. Why do you think I did it?” Mosheim said smiling. “Of course that’s what it’s all about.”

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