Realising ‘elephantine’ ambitions
It’s never nice for a child to be stuck in hospital. To promote the wellbeing and recovery of sick children, UM professor Pim Martens and team aim to create a special animal room in the paediatric ward of the Maastricht UMC+. What does this ambitious research project entail, and what do the researchers need to bring it to fruition? “Using virtual reality we’ll soon be able to let all children experience the animal world.”
“Employees from the Maastricht UMC+ paediatric ward were already organising ‘animal-assisted activities’ through their project Beestenboel”, explains Martens, professor of Sustainable Development. “The project introduces sick children to animals from a petting zoo, Kinderboerderij De Heeg, in a special, supervised room. Research has shown that this pleasurable meeting influences the recovery of the children in a positive way. Together with specialists from the Open University, I joined the project later to find out what parents and nursing staff think of it, and to check that it doesn’t cause stress to the animals. It’s a great way to bring some joy to children in hospital. But there’s so much more we could do within this project…”
What are the next steps for the Maastricht UMC+ team involved in animal-assisted activities? “Given the positive results of our research and studies in other hospitals, we want to increase the frequency of the visits by the animals and their carers. At present animal-assisted activities are only organised a few times a year. If we’re going to do this more often, more animals and supervisors are needed, and they all need to be given proper training, as do the participating nurses. Perhaps in the future we could also train other hospital staff in animal-supported work: psychologists, physiotherapists, medical specialists. Wouldn’t it be great if we also had a special consultation room adjacent to the animal experience room?”
Stress means stop
Martens and the team would also like to see more accessible facilities in the animal room. “We need height-adjustable enclosures to enable children who are in wheelchairs or bedridden to see and pet the animals just like everybody else.” The animal-friendliness of the facilities could also be improved, for example by having more enclosures where the animals can withdraw if they need a rest. “Their wellbeing and health is extremely important. We have them checked regularly by a vet. We make sure that they’re transported and studied using animal-friendly methods, and that we have the right professionals, supervision, training and facilities in place. And we stop immediately if they give off signs of stress. The entire team has a great love of animals, as well as a passion to make the lives of vulnerable people a little more enjoyable.”
What if a child does not want, is unable or is not permitted to come into contact with animals? The project team has thought of this too. “We’re in discussions with GaiaZOO about the possibility of a virtual zoo. Using virtual reality we’ll soon be able to let all children experience the animal world. We offer distraction and hope, but above all we want kids to see and experience how special our Earth is!” To achieve all their goals, the team needs a minimum of €12,500. Professor Martens is one of the faces of the Limburg University Fund/SWOL’s ‘For Each Other’ campaign, and in the first quarter of 2020 will also start a crowdfunding campaign on the UM Crowd platform. If they manage to raise the required funding, the team will consider which aim has the highest priority and should therefore be tackled first. Moreover, Martens and the Open University will start a new research project, because the big question is of course: do the new ‘Animal Assisted Activities’ improve the wellbeing and recovery of sick children as well?
Are you there ‘For Each Other’?
Maastricht University is committed to the important tasks of teaching and research, with the ultimate aim of building a better society. As ever, the University Fund Limburg/SWOL supports UM in this effort. But your support, too, is essential.
In the ‘For Each Other 2019’ campaign, we are seeking contributions to four special UM projects: scholarships for disadvantaged students, an app for research on women with chronic pain, a plastic recycling workshop and an animal experience room for hospitalised children. In the weeks leading up to and during the campaign, we will publish a series of articles shining a spotlight on each of the four projects.
By: Milou Schreuders
Pim Martens, professor of Sustainable Development at Maastricht University, is dedicated to animals and sustainability. He holds a PhD in mathematics and is a guest researcher at various universities. He is also a science activist committed to improving the relationship between humans and animals.
Contribute to Pims project
Would you like to make a donation to the ‘For Each Other’ campaign? Donate via www.umcrowd.nl.