Therapy animals delay progression of dementia symptoms in nursing home residents, study finds

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Engagement with therapy animals slows down the progression of dementia symptoms in nursing home residents, according to a recently published study.

Researchers based in Germany and Switzerland divided 65 nursing home residents into two groups. One group received 10 weekly sessions of animal-assisted therapy, and the other did not. The residents were assessed for cognitive impairment, presence of agitation/aggression and depression, up to a month after the AAT sessions took place.

Among those who did not receive the animal therapy, agitation/aggression and depression “significantly increased” over the 10 weeks, the researchers found. Those symptoms remained steady among those who were interacting with the animals.

Previous studies have shown “beneficial effects” of AAT among those with psychiatric disorders, but this is one of the only studies looking at AAT's potential benefits for those with dementia, according to the research team.

“AAT is a promising option for the treatment of agitation/aggression and depression in patients with dementia,” the authors concluded. They said further study is needed on the effects of longer-term animal therapy.

The findings appear in this month's issue of The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

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