PHARR — Approximately 20 residents of Colonial Manor nursing home were able to experience nature Friday as the outdoors came inside through an innovative program new to the area.

Bird Tales is a multi-sensory stimulation program designed for the residents of mild to severe levels of dementia. The program involves talking about birds native to South Texas in order to stimulate the participant’s cognitive functions of sight, sound and touch through recalling encounters with the birds, the individual characteristics of each bird and the various bird sounds.

The one-hour program uses plush birds such as a Baltimore oriole, a cardinal, and a finch along with an 8-by-10-inch photo of the bird for the visual component along with a recording of the bird for auditory stimulation.

Molina Healthcare of Texas collaborated with the Frontera Audubon Society in Weslaco for the Bird Tales pilot project. In the South Texas region, 32 rehab and nursing facilities will have the chance to experience the program this month.

Marco Rangel, outreach coordinator for the Frontera Audubon Society, explained that the Bird Tales program involves storytelling and factual history.

“This program was a way to bring aspects of the outdoor experience indoors to this specific type of demographic of people living in nursing and rehab centers and is an activity that exposes them to nature and the outdoors,” Rangel said. “It’s very knowledge-based and educational as much as it is therapeutic and sensorial, as well.

“They’ll see a photo and immediately it triggers a memory for them (residents) — a happy moment that they experienced or a funny story that they encountered with a type of bird.” Rangel added.

Juan Rivera, Molina Healthcare community engagement coordinator for the Rio Grande Valley, said the residents with dementia have reacted in a positive way to the pilot program.

“It’s so very good for them; it’s another option for residents with dementia,” Rivera said. “This is something ideal for them to grasp and is also tranquil for them.”

Robert Avila, Colonial Manor administrator, praised the program saying it engaged the residents.

“It was very nice for the community to be involved and it brings nature into the nursing home,” Avila said. “A lot of residents are not able to go outside, so it’s good to bring nature inside.”

The Bird Tales program was created in 2011 by the Audubon Center at Bent of the River in Connecticut to improve the quality of life for rehab and nursing home residents, and is now being adapted to communities around the nation.

mmoreno@themonitor.com