Innovative use of Animal Assisted Therapy as a Tool to Facilitate Geriatric Client Interaction


American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)


Indianapolis, IN

Publication Date / Copyright Date

February 2015


Abstract ABSTRACT BODY: Purpose : Geriatric clients presenting with symptoms of emotional distress, perceptional deficits, apathy, depression, and lack of motivation respond positively to interaction with a highly trained dog, which is used as a therapy tool. The purpose of this report is to describe how the dog is used as an adjunct to therapy to address both the physical and emotional deficits of the client, in an acute rehabilitation unit. Description : The Memorial Healthcare System (Hollywood, FL), the 3rd largest public healthcare system in the country, is using service dogs, usually assigned to one person, as an adjunct tool for clients receiving physical therapy. The dogs are specially bred golden retrievers, who are trained as service dogs. The dogs are trained with disabled children, learning over 80 commands. Once the dogs are trained, handlers are selected from the hospital and rehabilitation staff. Staff received one week of intense training on how to handle the dog. The dog spends time in the Rehabilitation Unit, where the handlers incorporate the dog into clients’ treatment sessions. Examples of incorporating the dog into the therapy sessions includes activities such as placing the dog on the mat in a strategic location and asking the client to brush the dog, promoting weight shifting; in the standing position, asking client’s to throw objects so that the dog can retrieve them. Activities range from simply petting the dog to walking the dog on uneven surfaces. The dog is used both in individual physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions as well as in group therapy sessions. Summary of Use : Because of the success of the service dog in one hospital within the Memorial Healthcare System, all six hospitals are now using service dogs within their hospital and rehabilitation units. In order to allow this program to work in the hospital system, very specific policies and procedures had to be implemented to assure the safety of the dog, staff and clients. Anecdotal reports indicate that employees and clients are receptive to the dog in the hospital settings and selected clients respond positively to the dog’s presence. Facilitation of clients balance reactions, body awareness and strengthening are the main goals for the use of the dog within the physical therapy sessions. Therapist also reports that clients’ dispositions are positively impacted by the presence of the dog and participation is enhanced by the presence of the dog. Importance to Members: The use of service dogs for individual clients is well known and used within the industry. But, the use of service dogs within the geriatric physical therapy units is a new concept. Rather than the dog being a passive element in the environment to provide comfort, the dog takes an active role during the therapy sessions. This facilitates both the emotional and the physical recovery of the clients. KEYWORDS: Canine assisted therapy, Service dogs. Chur-Hansen, A., McArthur, M., Winefield, H., Hanieh, E., Hazel, S. (2014). Aniomal-Assited Interventions in Children’s Hospitals: A Critical Review of the Literature. Anthrozooz: Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People and Animals, 27(1), 5-18. DeCourcey, M., Russell, A., Keister, K. (2010). Animal-Assisted Therapy: Evaluation and Implementation of a Complementary Therapy to Improve the Psyschological and Physiological Health of Critically Ill Patients. Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing, 29(5), 21—214. Fine, A. (2010). Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy, Third Edition: Theoretical Foundations and Guidelines for Practice. Elsevier, San Diego, CA. Kramer, S., Friedmann, E., Bernstein, P. (2009). Comparison of the Effect of Human Interaction, Animal-Assisted Therapy, and AIBO-Assisted Therapy on Long-Term Care Residents with Dementia. Anthrozooz: Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People and Animals, 22(2), 43-57. Palley,L., O’Rourke, P., Niemi, S. (2012). Mainstreaming Animal-Assisted Therapy. Journal of the Institute of Laboratory Animal Research , 51(3), 199-205


Physical Therapy

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