Animal assisted therapy for elderly residents of a skilled nursing facility

William Stuart Pope, Caralise Hunt, Kathy Ellison


There is a growing population of those with dementia and other cognitive impairments that affect the quality of life.  This is attributed to advances in science, technology and medicine leading to reductions in maternal mortality, infectious and parasitic diseases, occupational safety measures, and improvements in nutrition and education of the global population.  According to the Administration on Aging (AoA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2000, approximately 605 million people were 60 years or older.  By 2050, that number is expected to be close to 2 billion.  Animal assisted therapy (AAT) has been used as a therapeutic activity among the elderly to help improve well being and quality of life, but there has been limited research to demonstrate its effectiveness among those with dementia.  The purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness of AAT versus human interaction only on social behaviors and engagement among elderly patients with dementia in long-term care facility. Following random assignment to groups, the participants experienced two visits per week over a two-week time period of either animal therapy visits or human interaction visits.  One week with no activities then followed then with alternate animal therapy and human interaction visits.  The human interaction visits consisted of conversation and reading from and looking at pictures in a newspaper.  During animal visits, participants were encouraged to touch, pet, brush, and talk to the dogs.  In this study, AAT increased positive social behaviors resulting in fewer incidents requiring staff intervention. AAT coincides with current goals in long-term care settings - improving and enhancing socialization behaviors among older adults with dementia.

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Journal of Nursing Education and Practice

ISSN 1925-4040 (Print)   ISSN 1925-4059 (Online)

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