Arizona patients with memory loss help care for kittens in Pima County

Posted at 5:45 PM, Nov 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-18 19:45:39-05

An Arizona assisted-living facility that cares for patients with memory loss has launched a new program that fosters community and even seems to be helping bring back some long-lost memories.

Catalina Springs Memory Care in Oro Valley, Arizona recently launched their "Bottle Babies" program where kittens that need around the clock care come to the facility and are bottle-fed by residents.

It was the brainchild of Rebecca Hamilton the facility's Health Services Director, who partnered with Pima Animal Care Center.

The Tucson Care Center is often looking for temporary foster families to adopt their kittens since they need to be fed every two hours.

"This is extremely labor intensive, but only for a short period of time," Hamilton told ABC News. "But for that period of time, it is very difficult to find fosters to take these kittens."

Since Hamilton had been a foster parent for these kittens many times herself, she decided to marry her two loves -- of kittens and of serving her residents -- to form the pilot program. And so far, the facility has temporarily adopted two kittens to much success.

Hamilton had to train not only the staff but also the residents, who help feed the kittens.

The director said caring for the kittens has not only been "incorporated into our day," but it's also sparked long-lost memories in the 30-plus residents, who are all suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

"Loss of memory does not erase the ability to love -- that’s really hardwired," Hamilton said. "When you put a kitten into someone hands their faces just light up!"

"Many memories have started to resurface just by the act of caring for these babies," she added. "People began to bring up long-forgotten memories of a cat or a dog they had as a child."

Hamilton said that every resident has participated in the program, from feeding to snuggling to grooming.

"The kittens have enriched the lives in this center in indescribable ways," she added.