Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sociability of Nursing Home Residents Declines After Pet Visitations Cease

For some years, my consulting practice has allowed me to live in Phoenix in the winter and spring and Stone Ridge, New York, in the summer and fall. This creates a problem in volunteering with Chloe for therapy dog assignments. There comes a time when we must say good-bye for six months. I was particularly worried about this for the nursing home we visit in Youngtown, west of Phoenix. Many of the residents are hospice patients (we visit through the auspices of Hospice of the Valley, a large non-profit hospice system in Arizona), which means that many of them are not expected to live for more than six months. When we return after Thanksgiving, some of Chloe’s friends will no longer be there. Her biggest fan in the home is 99 years old, a veteran of several wars. Another is a woman of 105. In reading one of the earlier studies on pet facilitated therapy in nursing homes, I got a sense of the quantitative effect of our visits, and of the quantitative effect of our ceasing to visit. Ira B. Perelle and Diane A. Granville, Assessment of the Effectiveness of a Pet Facilitated Therapy Program in a Nursing Home Setting, 1(1) Animals & Society (1993). Perelle and Granville used four cats, two small dogs, and one rabbit, and visited 18 men and 35 women in a nursing home for ten weeks. They measured the sociability of the residents using what they called a Patient Social Behavior Scale designed for the study. The scale attempted to measure various social and self-maintenance behaviors. They found that the patients visited improved in their sociability while the pets were visiting, but men improved quickly and women more gradually over the period of the study. Unfortunately, all declined after the study was completed, though not back to the point where they had been before the study began. Eleven residents had to be dressed by others prior to the start of the study, but only three had to be dressed by the end of the visitations. This number rose to seven again in the four weeks after the visitations were over. The staff of the home were particularly impressed by how men interacted more with other residents because of the study. My experience has also been that men often sit in their wheelchairs at favored places in the hallway but do not interact. The women go to the activity room and interact with the staff and each other. Chloe often became a subject of conversation between the men and sometimes seemed to allow them to talk to each other. Perelle and Granville noted that they were able to conduct their study because of a cooperative administration and staff. They said something that caught my attention at the end of their paper: “Experience and the literature indicate that most institutions are not at all amenable to the introduction of animals of any type.” They wrote this in 1993. I doubt that this statement would be made now. The nursing home where I take Chloe in Arizona has been trying to find a replacement for Chloe for the months we are not there. Unfortunately, there is much more demand for therapy animals now than there is supply.

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