The Influence of Animal Assisted Therapy on Behavioral Symptoms in Individuals with Dementia

Monday, 22 July 2013: 11:25 AM

Nancy E. Edwards, PhD, ANP-BC
School of Nursing, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
Alan M. Beck, ScD
College of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

Learning Objective 1: Identify the influence of AAT, specifically aquariums, on behavioral and psychological symptoms in individuals with advanced dementia

Learning Objective 2: Describe how to utilize AAT to assist in the management of behavioral and psychological symptoms in individuals with dementia

Purpose: Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms (BPSD) are common in individuals with dementia.  This project examined the impact of animal assisted therapy (AAT), specifically aquariums, on behavioral symptoms in individuals with dementia who reside in dementia specific units.

Methods: Subjects included seventy individuals with advanced dementia who resided in three facilities. A pre-test post-test design was utilized incorporating each subject as their own control.  Baseline behaviors were assessed by the charge nurse utilizing the Nursing Home Disruptive Behavior Scale over a one week period. The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) was administered by the researcher.  A specialized aquarium, designed specifically for use in long-term care facilities, was introduced into the common area which is use for meals and activities by all residents.  The charge nurse completed the post behavioral assessment during week ten.

Results: The behaviors were categorized into six subscales: uncooperative, irrational, sleep, annoying, inappropriate and dangerous behaviors.  Items were summed within each subscale as well as for a total score. Repeated measures of analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) revealed that residents’ behaviors improved among four domains: uncooperative, irrational, sleep and inappropriate behaviors. In the domains of annoying and dangerous behaviors, no significant difference was noted. The total behavior score significantly improved after the aquarium was introduced (F-15.60, P<.001). The mean score improved from 67.2 at baseline to 58.2 at the completion of the study.

Conclusion: The results reinforce that animals of many species have a calming effect, even in the face of dementia. It supports the use of AAT, specifically aquariums, as a method to assist with the management of behavioral and psychological symptoms associated with dementia.  The importance of a non-chemical intervention delivered in a group setting is that the effect was demonstrated in the majority of individuals with none of the side effects commonly noted with medication use.