Animal-assisted interventions for elderly patients affected by dementia or psychiatric disorders: a review

J Psychiatr Res. 2013 Jun;47(6):762-73. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2012.12.014. Epub 2013 Jan 29.


Objective: The aim of this literature review was to assess the effects of Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI) on elderly patients with dementia or various psychiatric disorders.

Methods: We conducted a comprehensive literature search using the online PubMed network of the US National Library of Medicine & National Institutes of Health, Embase, PsycINFO, with the purpose of investigating AAI effects on cognitive functions, mood, and behaviour.

Results: A total of 18 articles on dementia and 5 on psychiatric disorders were included in the present review. AAI were found to have positive influences on demented patients by reducing degree of agitation and by improving degree and quality of social interaction. Few studies have assessed the effects of AAI on mood, and even fewer have assessed its consequences on cognitive functions. The results that are available indicate a positive effect on communication and coping ability, but none on cognitive performance. A substitute pet robot yielded encouraging results, but its use requires further investigation. The few studies conducted for elderly patients presenting a variety of psychiatric diagnoses produced controversial findings.

Conclusions: In spite of the encouraging results of AAI, much more research examining the issue of optimal AAI duration, frequency of sessions, and suitable target group is needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Animal Assisted Therapy / methods*
  • Animal Assisted Therapy / standards
  • Animal Assisted Therapy / trends
  • Animals
  • Dementia / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*