Therapy animals delay onset of some dementia symptoms

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Long-term care residents who interacted with animals realized numerous kinds of health benefits.
Long-term care residents who interacted with animals realized numerous kinds of health benefits.

Nursing home residents who interacted with therapy-trained animals showed slower rates of cognitive impairment and lower depression, researchers say.

Researchers at Charité University Medicine in Berlin and the Psychiatric Clinic in Basel, Switzerland looked at two groups of 65 residents. One group received 10 sessions of animal-assisted therapy (AAT), while the other group did not. 

Previous studies had indicated that this type of therapy benefits those with neuropsychiatric symptoms, but this one specifically found that those conducting therapy with animals had less-severe symptoms of agitation and aggression, as well as less frequent episodes. Residents were assessed with the Mini-Mental State Examination, the Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory and the Dementia Mood Assessment Scale at the beginning and four weeks after therapy began.

“AAT is a promising option for the treatment of agitation/aggression and depression in patients with dementia,” the authors wrote. More research is needed into possible long-term effects, they added.

Findings of the European study appeared in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry in November. 

An earlier study also found positive results from real dogs as well as robotic dogs, resulting in a recommendation that both animal-assisted therapy and “dog-related stimuli” be employed.

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