Limited evidence suggests they do. Pilot study will investigate.
The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation has awarded a $6,000 grant to The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Nursing for a pilot research study, “Biobehavioral Effects of Therapy Dog Visitation in Elderly Intensive Care Unit Patients.” The study will investigate how brief visits from therapy dogs can reduce stress in older intensive care unit (ICU) patients.
“Elderly patients who are admitted to the intensive care unit are at risk for anxiety that negatively affects physical health,” says primary researcher Sandra Branson, PhD, RN, assistant professor at UTHealth School of Nursing. “Limited evidence suggests the effectiveness of therapy dog visits in improving these biological responses. We’re hoping this study will help fill the gap and potentially translate into regular practice in ICUs.”
The 18-month study will observe two groups of 10 older participants in the ICU; one group will receive a 10-minute therapy dog visit at random, and the other will receive usual care without the visit. Patients’ psychosocial, endocrine, and inflammatory responses will be measured immediately before and after the 10-minute care session and compared between the two groups.
Investigators predict that participants who receive the therapy dog visits will show greater reductions in the measured responses. The results of this study could yield therapy dog visits as a regular low-risk, low-cost treatment intervention for patients in the ICU.
“HABRI’s grant to UTHealth will help advance the science that demonstrates the benefits of companion animals for disease recovery and healthy aging,” says Executive Director Steven Feldman. “The deployment of therapy animals in hospital settings is a growing trend. We want as many people as possible to benefit from the healing power of the human-animal bond.”
A recently published report by The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America showed that 279 of 337 health care facilities surveyed (83 percent) permit animal-assisted activities. Additionally, a 2014 HABRI Foundation survey of 1,000 doctors found that 69 percent had worked with animals in a hospital, medical center, or medical practice to assist patient therapy or treatment.