Paws and Claws: Pets as Medicine

ANIMAL ASSISTED ACTIVITIES

“Animal assisted activities provides opportunities for motivational, recreational, educational, and/or therapeutic benefits to enhance quality of life. AAA are delivered in a variety of environments by specially trained professionals, paraprofessionals, and/or volunteers, in association with animals that meet specific criteria. (Standards of Practice for Animal Assisted Activities and Therapy). AAA can assist people in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, schools and other facilities.

EVIDENCE OF ANIMAL ASSISTED THERAPY BENEFITS

According to the “The Effect of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) on Engagement of Rural Nursing Home Residents” study published in the American Journal of Recreation Therapy, anywhere from 24 to 90 percent of nursing home residents exhibit passive behaviors, apathy, and functional decline due to inactivity. In this study, researchers examined the effects that animal assisted therapy has on nursing home resident’s passivity, engagement and mood. Researchers assigned ten rural nursing home residents to AAT and ten rural nursing home residents to traditional recreation therapy interventions. Each group received five, one hour sessions during a span of six weeks. AAT was shown to significantly decrease passive behaviors and significantly improve mood. The traditional recreation therapy control group did show improvements but none were significant. If you are interested in more published research on animal assisted activities and therapy visit The Pet Partners website.

HOW PETS BENEFIT OLDER ADULTS

  • The biggest benefit to older adults is lower blood pressure
  • Increased levels of serotonin
  • Decreased risk of depression
  • Decreased anxiety and pain
  • Less boredom
  • Companionship
  • Help older adults access memories of their own pets

ANIMAL ASSISTED THERAPY IN CHICAGO

Chicago’s Home Instead Senior Care, a home health care agency, owned by Michael Melinger, has a 5-year-old Goldendoodle named Walter who visits several area nursing homes. Walter is a certified therapy dog through Therapy Dogs International. Walter goes to each room at the nursing home visiting residents. Many people living in nursing homes are in pain, depressed, or anxious and the interaction with Walter may help to improve their quality of life. However, in order for Walter and other dogs to be certified to do animal assisted activities, they have to be friendly, gentle and comfortable around people who may have complicated medical problems.

OTHER ACTIVITIES TO SUPPORT OLDER ADULTS

Animal Assisted Activities is one example of an activity that may benefit the quality of life for an older adult. To read about other complementary ways to help older adults who are facing challenges, please check out the following Chicago Bridge blog articles:     **Thanks to K9 Playgroups for sharing the picture used in this blog article.

2 Comments

  • Leah B

    Great article, Melissa. I have seen firsthand the amazing benefits of AAAs with older adults, and particularly those with dementia. I hope this is a trend that continues to grow!

  • Melissa Buckles Haley

    Thank you so much, Leah! I hope so!

    Melissa

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