Stepping out of the shadows of Alzheimer's disease: a phenomenological hermeneutic study of older people with Alzheimer's disease caring for a therapy dog

Int J Qual Stud Health Well-being. 2017 Dec;12(1):1347013. doi: 10.1080/17482631.2017.1347013.


Purpose: Living with Alzheimer's disease (AD) can involve a person being unable to recall and convey information in daily life. There are several ways to provide person-centred care to older people with AD, e.g. by empowering them in a situation. The use of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) with a therapy dog in the care of people with dementia is increasing, with the presence of a therapy dog being described as improving, among other things, the well-being and socialization of the person. The aim of this study was to illuminate meanings of care for people with AD in their encounters with a therapy dog.

Method: The study used video-recorded observations of the person with AD and the dog. Data were transcribed and analysed using a phenomenological hermeneutic method.

Results: The main theme was "Using one's own resources and abilities as a human being", which meant being the person one can be and distancing oneself from the symptoms of AD during the time with the dog.

Conclusions: The feelings evoked in the people with AD included empathy and altruism, which allowed for a sense of joy and tenderness, which may induce a sense of self-worth, of being needed, and of being meaningful.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; animal-assisted therapy; caring; life world; person-centredness; phenomenological hermeneutics.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Altruism
  • Alzheimer Disease* / psychology
  • Alzheimer Disease* / therapy
  • Animal Assisted Therapy*
  • Animals
  • Dogs*
  • Emotions*
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Hermeneutics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Personhood
  • Pets*
  • Power, Psychological
  • Quality of Life*
  • Self Concept*

Grant support

This work was supported by the Agria Djurförsäkring, Demensförbundet, Sophiahemmet University, Sophiahemmet Research Foundation, Queen Silvia Fund for Education and Research, Kung Gustav V’s and Queen Victoria’s Foundation, Ragnhild and Einar Lundström Foundation, and Svenska Kennelklubben and Dalarna University.