Animal assisted interventions (AAI) have become a growing topic of interest in research in recent years. The possibility of AAI was first realized when a psychiatrist named Boris Levinson recognized the benefits that AAI produced as his dog accompanied him when he would visit a behaviorally disturbed child under his care. In later years, interest in the therapeutic use of animals in long-term care grew. The Alzheimer’s Association encourages the use of AAI with patients suffering with Alzheimer’s disease as a management strategy. According to the Association, “Meaningful activities, such as those that involve music, art and pet visits, can help enrich the lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Pets, for instance, have been shown to reduce depression and boost self-esteem.” A study conducted in 2003 found that animal-assisted therapy significantly decreased agitated behaviors in elderly patients with severe dementia and increased meaningful social interactions during the intervention. However, both of these positive effects stopped once the intervention was removed. Studies found that, in general, therapy using pets appeared to lower levels of aggression, promote prosocial behavior, and enhance health outcomes in patients with dementia.
Robotic therapy has become a recent alternative to traditional AAI. More research and development has gone into creating robots that can provide interactive social engagement. These interactive stimulation robots are able to imitate real (human or animal) beings, mimic behaviors that are normally observed in animals or humans, are able to communicate either verbally or nonverbally, and are perceived as belonging to the living (or imaginary) world. Interactive stimulation robots, otherwise known as social robots, have been used as both recreational and clinical devices. An example of a social robot that has been used in the clinical setting is the robot called Paro, which was created from the collaboration between the Japanese Government and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) as a response to the ever-growing population of retiring baby boomers and their increasing care needs. The goal of creating Paro is to provide elderly patients with satisfying, positive social and emotional engagement. Paro also is meant to help paid and unpaid caregivers—while elderly patients are interacting with Paro, their caregivers have more time to perform other, necessary functions. Furthermore, it has been found that using Paro can both enhance the “health” of older adult patients’ social networks as well as ameliorate physiological markers of stress.
In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted clearance for the Paro robot to serve as a medical device and has been classified as a biofeedback device. Paro’s appearance mimics that of a baby harp seal and is similar in weight and size to a baby. Many studies have examined the effectiveness of interventions using Paro for a variety of populations, including pediatric and autistic patients, and especially with elderly patients. Strong evidence has shown that the use of Paro in both group and individual settings significantly decreases depression, increases beneficial social interactions between residents, and enhances cognitive functioning in older adult patients with dementia, as well as decreases negative behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.
Another study that compared the results of two groups in a long-term care setting, one in which dementia patients used Paro and the other in which a reading activity was offered, found that the group who interacted with Paro showed significant enhancements in positive mood and quality of life. Many researchers conclude that Paro can be an effective nonpharmacological approach for treating depressed mood and behavior problems related to dementia for patients in long-term care facilities. Researchers also note that Paro is best received by residents who are generally calm and approachable, as opposed to actively expressing problematic behavior or mood.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of elder abuse or neglect in a nursing home or assisted living facility, such as one in Hawthorne or Hermosa Beach, California, please contact our office today for a free consultation. The Law Offices of Ben Yeroushalmi is made up of experienced attorneys and experts in elder law that are passionate about defending older adults who have been wrongly treated in a long-term care facility.