The ponies providing comfort to those with Alzheimer's disease

It's probably not the first thing you think of when it comes to treatments for Alzheimer's disease but ponies have been bringing smiles to patients' faces thanks to one woman's efforts.

It may seem peculiar, but research suggests the disease's effects can be reduced and patients' quality of life can be improved with 'equine therapy'.

Friday is World Alzheimer's Day, which aims to raise awareness and highlight the issues faced by nearly 50 million people around the world.

With 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia, care homes across the country are constantly looking for new ways to treat the disease.

The condition is incurable, but when patients interact with horses, Katy Smith of KL Pony Therapy says "it's like somebody's switching a light on".

It's an unusual form of treatment, but 'equine therapy' appears to work. Credit: ITV News

She set up her County Durham business in 2011 after stumbling upon the benefits of pony interaction when her father was ill in a care home and she brought her pets in to visit.

After noticing the residents' positive reaction she decided to treat dementia patients across the country to her therapy by setting up a dedicated service.

Ms Smith, who has worked with horses for 30 years, takes her miniature ponies to care homes so residents can "stroke, talk and just be around them".

Ms Smith started her service after noticing the smiles on residents' faces. Credit: ITV News

She said: "The ponies help with Alzheimer's in a really positive and really interactive way, it's very hands on - and the response you get through smiles, through eye contact, it's like somebody's switching a light on."

As the number of people with dementia in the UK is expected to hit one million by 2025, care homes are looking at alternative therapies to help residents living with the condition.

Katy Smith has been running KL Pony Therapy for over seven years. Credit: ITV News

Nicola Bowles, who works at Wordsworth House care home in Newcastle, has noticed an improvement in resident's mood after meeting the ponies.

"They'll be more uplifted, they'll engage in conversations and sometimes just smile, which as I say, is what it's all about," she said.