Dr. Ann-Marie Wordley from the University of Adelaide in Australia presented the preliminary results during the Alzheimer’s Association Dementia Care Conference.

First, the details.

  • 30 residents of a care facility were studied.
  • 7 were classified as “sundowners” — they have particularly challenging behavior problems in the evening.
  • Participants were observed for 4 weeks, exposed to animal-assisted therapy for 6 weeks, followed by another 6 weeks of observation without the animals.
  • Therapy consisted of a 1-hour group session twice a week with the activities therapist, 2 visiting dog handlers, and 1 of 3 visiting dogs — a golden retriever and two border collies.
  • Residents could pat and interact with the dog as the handler walked around the group.
  • Nursing home staff completed the Revised Memory and Behavior Problems Checklist after each session and at the end of each week.

And, the results.

  • Prosocial behavior — eye contact, smiling, verbal communication, and other responsiveness — increased and was maintained during follow-up.
  • Memory problems decreased.
  • Benefit on disruptive behavior was achieved but did not last long.
  • The group of sundowner patients also participated in a 6-week study to control for the effect of the animals by having sessions with the dog handlers alone.

The bottom line?
Dr. Wordley has not completed the statistical analysis of the results, so it’s not clear if any of this is significant. If the analysis is confined to the 7 patients with sundowner’s syndrome, it probably won’t be.

Despite this, it’s a step in the right direction, and we look forward to the final results and publication. The history of research in animal-assisted therapy is primarily based on case reports.

9/11/08 18:05 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.