Long-term evaluation of animal-assisted therapy for institutionalized elderly people: a preliminary result


Namiko Kawamura, RN, MN, School of Nursing, Sapporo City University, Kita11 Nishi13, Chuo-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido, 060-0011 Japan. Email: n.kawamura@scu.ac.jp


Background:  Many researchers theorize that animal-assisted therapy (AAT) will have an effect on people suffering from the symptoms of dementia by evaluating short-term-effects. The purpose of this research was to evaluate the psychological and behavioral effects of AAT on elderly residents of a nursing home on a long-term basis.

Methods:  The subjects consisted of 10 residents of a residential nursing home. Researchers first created each participant’s goal in an agreement with the nursing home staff. Visits were made twice a month, and on each occasion three or four dogs were taken. The residents were able to freely feed, hold and play with the dogs, with each dog placed on a separate table. Data collection methods included GBS Scale Japanese Version (GBSS-J) and Mental Function Impairment Scale (MENFIS). Data was collected four times during the period 2003–05. The scores were analyzed using SPSS11.5J.

Results:  According to GBSS-J, the scores for intellectual function, spontaneity, emotional function and other mental functions decreased during the first 6 months of the study and then increased until the twelfth month. The score for Motor function increased over the 12 months. When comparisons were made item by item, there were significant decreases in impaired orientation in space, and emotional liability during the first 6 months. According to MENFIS, the overall score tended to decrease during the first 6-month period but increased from 6 months to 12 months. There was a tendency for scores to decrease in impaired emotional function, especially impaired suitability of emotional expression and impaired stability of emotional expression over the 12-month period.

Conclusions:  After 6 months of participation in AAT, there were improvements in mental functions, though physical functions decreased. It is suggested that after a 6 month period each subject’s needs and goals should be re-examined.