Background: Preliminary studies suggest beneficial effects of animal-assisted activities (AAA) on behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD), but data are inconsistent. This study aimed to assess the effect of AAA with dogs on cognition, BPSD, emotional status and motor activity in severe Alzheimer's disease (AD).
Methods: Ten patients attending an Alzheimer Day Care Center (ADCC) participated in a repeated measures study, which included: two weeks' pre-intervention, three weeks' control activity with plush dogs (CA), and three weeks' AAA. Cognitive function (Severe Impairment Battery), mood (Cornell Scale for Depression in Dementia; CSDD), BPSD (Neuropsychiatric Inventory; NPI) and agitation (Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory; CMAI) were assessed at baseline and after each period. Observed Emotion Rating Scale (OERS) for emotional status, Agitated Behavior Mapping Instrument (ABMI) and a checklist for motor activity were completed across the study periods, both during intervention sessions and after three hours.
Results: Cognition and NPI were unchanged across the study. Declines in the CMAI and CSDD scores after AAA were not significant, while the NPI anxiety item score decreased in comparison with CA (CA 3.1±2.3, AAA 1.5±2.7, p = 0.04). OERS “sadness” decreased (p = 0.002), while “pleasure” (p = 0.016) and “general alertness” (p = 0.003) increased during AAA compared with CA sessions, and observed sadness remained lower after three hours (p = 0.002). Motor activity increased significantly during AAA.
Conclusion: In this sample of severe AD patients in ADCC, AAA was associated with a decrease in anxiety and sadness and an increase in positive emotions and motor activity in comparison with a control activity.