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Debra Buttram

Abstract: Animal assisted therapy in alzheimer patients

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7th International Geneva/Springfield
Symposium on Advances in
Alzheimer Therapy
03-06 April 2002 - Geneva, Switzerland

G Bigatello, D Buttram, M Galimberti, P Fresca, A Ghibaudi Istituto Geriatrico Ca' d'Industria, Como and AIUCA, A.I.U.C.A. - Associazione Italiana Uso Cani d'Assistenza Bosisio Parini (LC), Italy

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) has shown beneficial effects in patients with Alzheimer Disease (AD). In particular, a reduction in disruptive behavior and mood disorders as well as an improvement in social behaviors have been observed. Starting with these observations, in January 1999 we began programs with the Associazione Italiana Uso Cani di Assistenza (AIUCA) (Italian Association for the Utilization of Assistance Dogs) to involve, in collaboration with our staff, appropriately prepared and selected dog-handler teams in our nursing home. Having observed an improvement in the general disposition and welfare of the patients who underwent preliminary treatment, in January 2000 we extended AAT to some of our most severely debilitated patients (UCLA Scale > 24, MMSE < 16), generally in sessions of one hour twice a week. During the 1 hour twice weekly session, which are held in a dedicated room, each of the 19 patients part of our Alzheimer Special Care Unit (ASCU) is encouraged to pet, brush, give treat to the dog, and walk them at the leash. They are also asked to recall memories and experiences with animals. Any resident who does not welcome contact with the dog, is gently guided out of the meeting room. Of 19 patients, only one female has shown no desire contact with the dog, 4 - 5 residents have seemed indifferent and all the others have manifested a definite enjoyment. Since we only recently started using on a regular basis the short version of the Severe Impairment Battery to evaluate our patients' response to the AAT, our present results are anecdotal. Nevertheless, we observed a decrease in behavioral disturbances, an improvement in their mood and at times pertinent verbal interaction. From these preliminary comparisons we believe that AAT deserves evaluation and possibly utilization in patients with AD.

1. Bigatello G, Lukacs A, Terragni A, Galimberti M, Buttram D. AAA/T in the nursing home: preliminary assumptions and comparisons of a pilot experience in Italy. Interactions: 18 (1): 8-9. 2000
2. Fritz CL, Farver TB, Kass PH, Hart LA. Association with companion animals and the expression of non-cognitive symptoms in Alzheimer's patients. J Nerv Ment Dis 183: 459-463. 1995

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