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PARKER, Colo. (KDVR) — An Aurora senior living community is putting in extra effort to keep their residents feeling young at heart.

For just a few weeks, the St. Andrew’s Village community out of Aurora is corraling its residents to give them some much-needed social interaction with animals.

Research conducted by Frontiers in Psychology shows that animal-assisted activity can contribute to reducing loneliness and improving quality of life, mood and social interaction.

The seniors really get up close and personal with the horses during this grant-funded program called Equine Elders. They connect senior living facilities with an equine therapist in Parker who helps the seniors brush, measure and learn about the horses.

They said the goal of the program is to stimulate memory and provide a sense of calm and well-being.

It’s funded by a NextFifty annual grant, which is between the months of May through October. About 10 senior communities come out to the stables in Parker.

That same Frontiers study shows that animal-assisted activity and therapy have been shown to reduce anxiety in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, those hospitalized with heart failure and residents of long-term care facilities.

Equine Elder Program Director Mary Slouka has seen the changes firsthand.

“A lot of times you know, they come with a lot of anxiety and stress, depression and when they leave, that goes away. You know it stays with them for the whole day at least, if not longer, and it does help them create new memories,” said Slouka.

“It takes me back to the time on the farm. Grandpa still had one pair of horses and he raised hogs,” said one elderly program participant, Phil, who did recall some memories during the experience.

“The horses are really the therapists and so I’m a facilitator, I facilitate the horses and the people,” said Slouka. “Horses just have this innate thing that they know what people need, and they choose to be here.”

Slouka does a brief survey on how seniors feel before they visit with the horses and then after, and the numbers show their mood really does improve.

This program runs during the warmer months due to the cold temperatures inside the barn.

Visit the Equine Partnership Program website to learn more or donate.