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Abstract

Purpose: Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of animal assisted therapy (AAT) for improving the mental health of older adults in residential care. The aim of this rapid review was to synthesise existing research evidence to determine the approaches that AAT should take to enhance outcomes for older adults living in residential care. Methods: A systematic literature search was conducted to identify studies published between 2009 and 2019 that investigated AAT and improvement in physical and/or psychosocial outcomes for adults aged over 65 years, living in residential care. Studies were critically appraised to determine methodological quality, key data were extracted, and a critical narrative synthesis was conducted to determine features of effective AAT intervention. Results: Eighteen studies were identified for inclusion in this review. All eligible studies utilised dogs for AAT. Nearly all studies found positive outcomes from the AAT; however, several features of AAT were associated with better outcomes. AAT was shown to be effective at improving depressive symptoms and socioemotional behaviours regardless of the frequencies, durations, and overall intervention periods employed. Participant quality of life only improved when AAT was conducted up to twice weekly. Physical interaction and combined physical interaction and walking were both associated with positive outcomes. The use of trained/certified therapy dogs was more likely to improve outcomes than using dogs with no reported training. Facilitators provided by AAT organisations, and facilitators with veterinary, nursing, or AAT training were associated with improved outcomes. Group AAT was associated with greater effectiveness than AAT conducted with individual participants. Studies where AAT was conducted in a combined indoor/outdoor or solely indoor setting appeared most likely to improve outcomes. Conclusion: AAT involving dogs was typically associated with positive outcomes for older adults living in residential care; however, some features of AAT were associated with better outcomes. To enhance outcomes, it is recommended that AAT be implemented in a group setting, include physical interaction or combined physical interaction, and walking, and be conducted by trained facilitators.

Author Bio(s)

Mitchell Franklin, BOccThy(Hons), graduated with a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (Honours) from Charles Sturt University in 2020. Mitchell is beginning as a community occupational therapist and has worked in aged care and disability services. His current research interests include animal assisted therapy, community services, and aged care.

Rodney Pope, PhD, is Professor of Physiotherapy at Charles Sturt University, Australia, and has over 30 years of experience in physiotherapy practice, research and teaching. Rod has worked across a range of contexts in this time, including hospital, private practice, aged care, disability, occupational and higher education settings.

Natasha Versi, BOccThy(Hons), graduated with a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (Honours) from Charles Sturt University in 2020, and has submitted her honours research article to the Journal of Aging Research. Her current research interests include healthy aging, implementation science, dual-task activities and disability.

Tracey Parnell, PhD, is the Discipline Lead, Occupational Therapy at Charles Sturt University, Australia. Tracey has almost 30 years of experience in occupational therapy practice, teaching and research. Her experience has been in a range of settings including hospital based practice, community based rehabilitation, occupational/vocational rehabilitation, and higher education.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my supervisors, Dr Tracey Parnell and Professor Rod Pope for their continuous guidance and support throughout the entirety of this review. I would like to thank Charles Sturt University for guiding my career and academic journey and providing the opportunity to complete a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (Honours) I would like to acknowledge and thank Natasha Versi for her assistance in completing this systematic review. Specifically, her assistance with critical appraisal as a second appraiser was incredibly useful and appreciated. I would like to thank the aged care facility where I work for the inspiration to complete this topic of research. I would also like to acknowledge their support for allowing me to take my dog in to visit residents and see the joy on their faces when interacting with him. I would like to thank my mother, Jen Franklin, for her unending support throughout my life and my Honours university journey. I would also like to thank my partner, Sarah Murphy, for her ongoing support and guidance throughout my research, my degree and my life in general.

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