Since I've started bringing Maggie into the office on a regular basis I've been fielding a lot of questions about the benefits of animal assisted therapy. Here are a few interesting research articles. I found them to be interested and thought I'd share a few abstracts. I am particularly struck that even the presence of an aquarium in an ward of patients who have Alzheimer's has been shown to have a significant positive effect.
Barak, Y., Savorai, O., Mavashev, S., & Beni, A. (2001). Animal-Assisted Therapy for Elderly Schizophrenic Patients: A One-Year Control Trial. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 4, 439-442.
In a blind, controlled study, the effects of animal-assisted therapy were studied with elderly patients diagnosed with schizophrenia. The study indicated that there was a significant increase in mobility, interpersonal contact, communication, personal hygiene and self-care through the use of cats and dogs as modeling companions.
Barker, S. B., Pandurangi, A. K., & Best, A. M. (2003). Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy onPatients' Anxiety, Fear, and Depression before ECT. The Journal of ECT, 19, 38-44.
This study was done to determine whether animal assisted therapy is associated with reductions in fear, anxiety, and depression in psychiatric patients before electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). The effect of AAT on fear was significant in the study and the conclusion was drawn that animal assisted therapy may have a useful role in psychiatric and medical therapies in which the procedure is inherently fear-inducing or has a negative societal perception.
Edwards, N. E. & Beck, A. M., (2002). Animal-Assisted Therapy and Nutrition in Alzheimer'sDisease. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 24, 697-712.
This study was really interesting to me. It examined the influence of animal-assisted therapy--this time fish aquariums--on the nutritional intake for individuals with Alzheimer's disease. The researcher's collected baseline nutritional date for two weeks before the study began and then every two weeks after the aquariums were introduced. Nutritional intake increased significantly when the fish were introduced and continued to do so over a 16-week period. They study also found that the participants required less nutritional supplementation (they were eating better) and thus had a net savings effect on their health care costs!
Filan, S. L., & Llewellyn-Jones, R. H., (2006). Animal-Assisted Therapy for Dementia: A Review of the Literature. International Psychogeriatrics, 18, 597-611.
This article reviewed several small studies that suggest the presence of a dog reduces aggression, agitation, and promotes social behavior in people with dementia.
Martin, F., (2002). Animal-Assisted Therapy for Children with Pervasive Developmental Disorders. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 24, 657-670.
This study evaluated the effects of interaction with dogs on children with pervasive developmental disorders. These disorders are characterized by a lack of social communications and abilities. While interacting with a therapist, children who were also exposed to a therapy dog exhibited a more playful mood, were more focused, and were more aware of their social environments.
Folse, E. B., Minder, C. C., Aycock, M. J., & Santana, R. T., (1994). Animal-Assisted Therapy and Depression in Adult College Students. Anthrozoos: A multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People and Animals, 7, 188-194).
This study investigated the effects of animal assisted therapy on self-reported depression in college students. Students were randomly assigned to one of three groups: animal assisted therapy in conjunction with psychotherapy (directed group), animal assisted therapy only (non-directive), and a control group. They study demonstrated a significant difference between the control group and both the directive and non-directive group, suggesting that that just the presence of a therapy dog can have a positive effect on depressive symptoms.