Objectives: To investigate the efficacy of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) on symptoms of agitation/aggression and depression in nursing home residents with dementia in a randomized controlled trial. Previous studies have indicated that AAT has beneficial effects on neuropsychiatric symptoms in various psychiatric disorders but few studies have investigated the efficacy of AAT in patients suffering from dementia.
Methods: Of 65 nursing home residents with dementia (mean [standard deviation] age: 81.8 [9.2] years; mean Mini-Mental State Examination score: 7.1 [0.7]), 27 matched pairs (N = 54) were randomly assigned to either treatment as usual or treatment as usual combined with AAT, administered over 10 weekly sessions. Blinded raters assessed cognitive impairment with the Mini-Mental State Examination, presence of agitation/aggression with the Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory, and depression with the Dementia Mood Assessment Scale at baseline and during a period of 4 weeks after AAT intervention.
Results: In the control group, symptoms of agitation/aggression and depression significantly increased over 10 weeks; in the intervention group, patients receiving combined treatment displayed constant frequency and severity of symptoms of agitation/aggression (F1,48 = 6.43; p <0.05) and depression (F1,48 = 26.54; p <0.001). Symptom amelioration did not occur in either group.
Conclusions: AAT is a promising option for the treatment of agitation/aggression and depression in patients with dementia. Our results suggest that AAT may delay progression of neuropsychiatric symptoms in demented nursing home residents. Further research is needed to determine its long-time effects.
Keywords: AAT; Alzheimer disease; BPSD; agitation; animal-assisted therapy; depression; dog-assisted therapy; nursing home.
Copyright © 2013 American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.