Can recovery from stroke and depression be assisted by pets?
Monty Don, a presenter of BBC2’s Gardeners World, reported in an article in The Times (2016) that adopting a puppy (Nigel) helped him recover from his stroke in 2008 and the depression he suffered afterwards. He attributed this to Nigel’s perceived ability to read human emotions, the unconditional affection his new pet offered him, and Nigel providing the incentive he needed to begin exercising again.
This begs the question if there is any actual research based evidence that dogs and other pets can aid recovery of patients? And if so, what role can nurses play in ‘animal facilitated therapy’ (AFT), if any?
A review of the literature reveals significant research evidence, ranging from physical benefits, for example increased exercise associated with dog ownership, to psychological benefits such as reduced anxiety. According to Mendes, (2016), the volume of supporting evidence, from AFT’s initial conception (Levison, 1969) has led to a substantial increase in its application globally, with a multitude of benefits reported across a range of contexts.
Some studies demonstrate the value of AFT in supporting elderly people to overcome loss, (such as Krause-Parello, 2012), and there is substantial evidence demonstrating benefits to dementia patients from their contact with dogs, which is supported by Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Dog project (Dementia Dog, 2016). American studies also showed that Dog Assisted Therapy (DAG) helped war veterans overcome post-traumatic stress disorder (Owen et al., 2016). In younger people, Urbanski and Lazenby, (2012) reported that paediatric oncology patients experienced less anxiety and pain with improved quality of life when able to receive AFT.
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Overall, the research suggests that coordination of appropriate, safe, contact with animals to meet a therapeutic objective is heavily reliant upon nurse involvement, but nurses’ roles in AFT per se have not been studied. Nevertheless, Brodie and Biley (1998) and Owen et al., (2016) stress that nurses should be aware of the potential benefits.
Brodie, S.J. and Biley, F.C., 1999. An exploration of the potential benefits of pet‐facilitated therapy. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 8(4), pp.329-337.
Dementia Dog, 2016. Can dogs make a difference to dementia care? [online] available at http://www.dementiadog.org/ accessed 9th October 2016
Krause-Parello, C.A., 2012. Pet ownership and older women: the relationships among loneliness, pet attachment support, human social support, and depressed mood. Geriatric Nursing, 33(3), pp.194-203.
Levinson, B.M., 1969. The pet and mental hygiene. Pet oriented child psychotherapy, pp.41-45.
Mendes, A., 2016. Animal-assisted therapy for people living with dementia. Nursing And Residential Care, 18(4), pp.214-216.
Owen, R.P., Finton, B.J., Gibbons, S.W. and DeLeon, P.H., 2016. Canine-assisted Adjunct Therapy in the Military: An Intriguing Alternative Modality. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 12(2), pp.95-101.
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