The New American Magazine reported on the positive benefits that animal-visit therapy can have on nursing home residents. For residents that will have to spend a significant amount of time in a nursing home it is important for the facility to feel as much like home as possible. This means allowing family members to visit as much as possible. Jamie Snow the Assistant Director of Child Life and Social Work at Texas Children’s Hospital explains, “When there is a patient in the hospital for a significant amount of time, we think it is important to have their entire family here. And some people consider pets family members.”
Many health care professionals agree that good health is not just dependent on medical care but also depends on social, psychological, and behavioral aspects. Research has found that behavior such as the loving and sympathetic connection between humans and domesticated animals can have many positive health benefits.
The article explains, “For many years now it has been recognized that letting nursing home patients hold and pet cats and dogs has been shown to have strong therapeutic effects upon the patients.”
In the past, many people have been leery of the potential hygiene issues that pets could pose in a health care facility. However, experts have established safe protocols to make pet therapy visits safe for nursing home residents and the animals. Precautions such as ensuring the animal has current vaccines, regular baths, and preforming a “behavior check” to make sure the animal has the right temperament can make animal therapy safe for nursing homes.
Jean Pottinger, an infection prevention expert from the University of Iowa Healthcare, explained the safety of pet therapy saying, “There has never been an instance of a pet bringing any infection into the hospital.”
The Hartford Courant had an article about the use of a robotic seal to help dementia patients. Sea Sea, a white-furred robotic baby harp seal, was introduced to the residents and staff at McLean, a state-of-the-art care facility in Simsbury, Ct.. The seal is used primarily to calm patients with dementia in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. There are only 40 in the country today, according to Freddi Hoffmann, vice president of marketing at McLean. Using animals to calm patients in a nursing-home setting is not a new idea. But only recently have advances in technology made it possible to replace living animals with their robotic counterparts. Hopefully, these will become standard in most nursing homes.
The seal purrs and paddles its flippers when petted and opens its eyes and moves its head toward you when you talk. It has significant weight to it and when held against your chest you can feel it vibrate, simulating a heartbeat.
One of the most dramatic effects of Sea Sea’s therapy was seen in Eileen, a non-verbal patient who often doesn’t respond to verbal stimulation or acknowledge those around her. "She was lying in bed for about half an hour talking to her and stroking Sea Sea," Cookson said. "Eileen seemed calmed by the noise Sea Sea was making, she sat there laughing and talking with her the entire time."
It is through two microprocessors underneath her fur that Sea Sea is able to interpret and react to her environment. Cookson said that over time Sea Sea will learn to respond to her name and other phrases.
McLean was able to purchase Sea Sea through funds from the Sorenson Technology Center. McLean is already looking to purchase more of the robotic seals.
SouthTown Star had an article written by Donna Vickroy about the benefits of pet therapy at nursing homes including maintaining memory. Restoring memories is just one of the benefits animal therapy can bring to nursing home residents, said Jackie Sinwelski, memory support coordinator at Providence Healthcare. According to the Centers for Disease Control, pets can have multiple health benefits, especially for seniors. Animals can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels and feelings of loneliness.
The visits also lift moods, create excitement and provide comfort for many of the residents, she said. "It’s such a thrill for many of them to see the cats and dogs," Sinwelski said. "They can’t keep a pet here, so it’s nice that someone brings the animals to visit."
Four times each year, volunteers from Peoples Animal Welfare Society in Tinley Park bring shelter cats and dogs into the facility, allowing residents to pet and snuggle with the animals. Now in its fifth year, the PAWS program benefits eight homes in the Chicago area. The animals visit four times a year, staying for about an hour and a half at a time.
"We’re the only shelter in the Chicago area that has an animal therapy program," said John Greenan, PAWS animal therapy program coordinator.
Some members of the staff also seem to perk up at the sight of a smiling dog or inquisitive cat.
The outings are also good for the animals, all of which have managed to retain their gentle nature despite their own stories of hardship and abandonment.
The Intelligencer had an article about dog therapy in nursing homes. Therapy dogs walk the halls and sit at the feet of residents of nursing homes and hospital patients, putting smiles on faces. In addition, they visit assisted living facilities, children’s reading programs and libraries, assist with stress relief, do home visits, visit hospices, schools and shelters throughout the year.
At Mound View Health Care in Moundsville, in addition to resident facility bulldog Betsy, therapy dogs have been visiting for several years. Connie Smith of Moundsville and her dog, Shadow Dancer, have been visiting the facility for more than four years. Shadow Dancer, a Shetland sheepdog is now semi-retired after making about 150 regular visits, but the dog still makes an occasional return. Smith said she now has a younger dog that is making the visits.
Randy Moore of St. Clairsville and his boxer mix, Sierra, have made more than 200 visits at different facilities around the Ohio Valley.
"There are not enough therapy dogs," he noted. "I think every place needs therapy dogs. It’s amazing what they can do. They can actually help bring someone’s blood pressure down and reduce stress."
Therapy Dogs International is an organization that provides therapy dogs for hospitals and other facilities. "The dogs need to be trained," he noted. They have to be able to pass a 16-part test. Most hospitals require dogs to have TDI certification before they are allowed to visit. It ensures the dogs have the right temperament and meet insurance requirements.
Smith said anyone who might want to get involved with TDI and bring a dog for training can call her at 304-845-7829. Moore suggested looking at the TDI Web site www.TDI-dog.org.