Pet Therapy as an Approach to Improve Nursing Home Residents’ Quality of Life

A nursing home in St. Paul, Minnesota is giving its residents something to smile about every day—an employee’s teacup poodle. Nala, who has become the nursing home’s perky mascot, lovingly interacts with the residents on a daily basis, riding the nursing home’s elevator and leaping onto wheelchairs and beds to greet patients. Although Nala is not formally trained as a therapy dog, she has never failed to bring joy and comfort to the older adult residents at the Lyngblomsten care home.

The use of therapy dogs has shown to be an effective approach to enhance the quality of life of long-term older adult patients. A recent study evaluated the effect of a dog-assisted intervention on the behavioral and psychological symptoms of residents with dementia. Results of the study suggested that dog-assisted intervention offered an alternative or a complement to pharmacological treatments to ameliorate behavioral symptoms in people with dementia.

When evaluating the perception of loneliness in elderly nursing home residents, a study found that dog companionship reduced the residents’ perception of loneliness. Furthermore, an investigation of the efficacy of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) on symptoms of agitation, aggression, and depression in nursing home residents with dementia showed that AAT is a promising approach to treatment and may even prevent the progression of neuropsychiatric symptoms in demented nursing home patients.

Although the use of pets and pet therapy has shown to be an effective way to improve nursing home residents’ quality of life, the framework and conditions of this practice should be clearly defined and implemented with caution. In general, nursing home staff should strive to maintain quality of life for their residents, implement effective interventions that can ameliorate their suffering, and be vigilant when managing their health and well-being.