Effects of Dog-Assisted Therapies on Cognitive Mnemonic Capabilities in People Affected by Alzheimer's Disease

Animals (Basel). 2021 May 11;11(5):1366. doi: 10.3390/ani11051366.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia in humans and, currently, a valid treatment is lacking. Our goal is to demonstrate the importance and benefits of the relationship with companion animals (considered as co-therapists), intended as a means of facilitating social relations and promoting evident wellbeing in AD patients. The study involved 30 randomly chosen patients with Alzheimer's disease (group T) and three dogs. The group participated in a total of 24 animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) sessions over a span of 12 weeks, using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), Wellness and Cognitive Ability Questionnaire (Brief Assessment Cognition or BAC), and Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale (ADAS) as assessment tests. A second group (group C), consisting of 10 people with AD, was enrolled as control group and underwent the same assessment tests but did not benefit from the presence of the dogs. Tests were carried out at time T0 (before starting sessions), T1 (end of sessions), and T2 (two months after last session). People belonging to group T achieved an overall improvement in their perceived state of wellbeing, even on a cognitive and mnemonic plane. However, two months after the end of the sessions, the test results in people suffering from AD decreased towards the baseline (T0). The study shows how such progress can be achieved through activities based on the relationship with an animal, as long as the animal is a steady presence in the life of the patient receiving the intervention. Dogs involved in other dog-assisted therapies have been found suitable also for assisting patients with AD.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale (ADAS); Alzheimer’s disease (AD); Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE); Wellness and Cognitive Ability Questionnaire (Brief Assessment Cognition or BAC); animal-assisted interventions (AAIs); dogs; elderly patients; senile dementia.