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FESTIVE FIRST-BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR TRAINED "BIRD THERAPIST" OF SPRING HILLS MOUNT VERNON

Skittles, a trained tropical bird, lives among the residents of Spring Hills Mount Vernon Assisted Living and Memory Care. Skittles makes rounds with the staff every day and plays tricks with the residents and vistors.
Skittles, a trained tropical bird, lives among the residents of Spring Hills Mount Vernon Assisted Living and Memory Care. Skittles makes rounds with the staff every day and plays tricks with the residents and vistors.

“Watch the birdie!” Skittles, the candy-colored conure in residence at Spring Hills Mount Vernon Assisted Living and Memory Care, was the guest of honor this month, as the senior community celebrated the first birthday of their in-house “bird therapist” in festive fashion, with cake, balloons and lots of photos. Their fine feathered friend, which loves to be handled by strangers, kissed on its downy tummy and is great at playing ball, lives among the residents full time and is a beloved presence every day.

“Skittles is a Pineapple-Green-Cheeked Conure, and I selected that breed because it’s small and isn’t very loud,” explained Carolyn Ko, Director of Resident Care at Spring Hills and the key supervisor of Skittles’ care. Ko, who is the personal “parent” of five tropical birds in her home, knew that with the right hand-raising on site, this breed of bird could be successfully trained to have a therapeutic role with seniors. So in 2013, Ko recruited four other “mommies” from the staff who carefully introduced the baby bird into to the Spring Hills population beginning last March.

Now, a year later, this tiny bird has become a king-sized asset at the residence, entertaining residents and visitors alike. Skittles spends most of her waking time outside the cage and greets everyone from a playground in the hallway. Visiting children are especially drawn to watch the playful birdie enjoy the perch. Skittles also loves to travel on the shoulders of staff members as they make their rounds and that is when the bird plays a most important role, providing a beneficial distraction which seems to ease the process for residents taking medicines.

“Having a community bird required everyone to participate and Skittles has really brought us all together, which is why we had so much excitement about the first birthday” explained Ko. “The residents chose the name, which was, of course, inspired by the candy-colored feathers.  And Skittles seems to bring out the best in people. We have one resident who plays the harmonica to Skittles almost daily. Skittles is such an ice-breaker, promoting conversation, relieving anxiety and it’s just a great asset. That’s why we wanted to celebrate!”

About Spring Hills Mount Vernon:  Spring Hills Mount Vernon Assisted Living Community provides assisted living and memory care with the finest amenities and is located at 3709 Shannons Green Way, Alexandria, VA 22309. For more information, visit www.springhillsmountvernon.com or call 703-650-0779.

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