The effects of animal-assisted therapy on loneliness in an elderly population in long-term care facilities

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2002 Jul;57(7):M428-32. doi: 10.1093/gerona/57.7.m428.


Background: Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is claimed to have a variety of benefits, but almost all published results are anecdotal. We characterized the resident population in long-term care facilities desiring AAT and determined whether AAT can objectively improve loneliness.

Methods: Of 62 residents, 45 met inclusion criteria for the study. These 45 residents were administered the Demographic and Pet History Questionnaire (DPHQ) and Version 3 of the UCLA Loneliness Scale (UCLA-LS). They were then randomized into three groups (no AAT; AAT once/week; AAT three times/week; n = 15/group) and retested with the UCLA-LS near the end of the 6-week study.

Results: Use of the DPHQ showed residents volunteering for the study had a strong life-history of emotional intimacy with pets and wished that they currently had a pet. AAT was shown by analysis of covariance followed by pairwise comparison to have significantly reduced loneliness scores in comparison with the no AAT group.

Conclusions: The desire for AAT strongly correlates with previous pet ownership. AAT reduces loneliness in residents of long-term care facilities.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic*
  • Humans
  • Loneliness*
  • Long-Term Care*