Animal assisted therapy for older adults in aged care facilities: A rapid review

Mitchell Franklin, Tracey Parnell, Natasha Versi, Rod Pope

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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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
Original languageEnglish
Article number14
Pages (from-to)1-30
JournalInternet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 03 Jan 2022


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