Animal-Assisted Therapy as a Non-Pharmacological Approach in Alzheimer’s Disease: A Retrospective Study
Department of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Productions, Federico II University of Naples, 80134 Naples, Italy
Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology, Federico II University of Naples, 80125 Naples, Italy
Department of Fragility, Alzheimer Center “Villa Walpole”, ASL Napoli 1 Centro, 80125 Naples, Italy
Regional Reference Center of Urban Veterinary Hygiene (CRIUV), ASL Napoli 1 Centro, 80125 Naples, Italy
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(7), 1142; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10071142
Received: 4 June 2020 / Revised: 26 June 2020 / Accepted: 3 July 2020 / Published: 6 July 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Working Methods in the Field of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), Activities (AAA), and Education (AAE): An Open Discussion)
Non-pharmacological approach represents a valid therapeutic option as an alternative or supplement to pharmacological treatments in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. A type of non-pharmacological therapy is animal-assisted therapy (AAT), where the dog is a valid support to improving the quality of life of patients. In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, interaction with animals can reduce behavioral, stress, and mood disorders, and it can also stimulate some cognitive functions and give benefits to the psychosocial sphere. The purpose of this study was to apply, over a long period of time (2012–2019), AAT interventions adapted to reality orientation therapy (ROT), in groups of patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease. The work aimed to stimulate neuro-cognitive functions such as spatio-temporal orientation, memory, the ability to calculate, and language and to improve the depressive state of patients through the interaction and carrying out of structured games with the dog. The results obtained in the present study show an improvement in both cognitive function and mood of patients who carried out the therapy with the dog. In conclusion, we can therefore affirm how the study conducted confirms the potential of animal-assisted therapy as a non-pharmacological therapy in the treatment of deficits deriving from Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Recently, many efforts have been made to assess the effectiveness of non-pharmacological therapies as an alternative or supportive option to conventional approaches. Specifically, animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has recently raised a great interest and large research efforts. This work represents a retrospective study carried out over seven years (from 2012 to 2019) in 127 patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease. The patients were divided into three groups: an experimental group that received AAT interventions adapted to the formal reality orientation therapy (ROT), a group receiving a formal ROT, and a control group that did not perform any of the previous therapies. All sessions, for all patient groups, were held weekly for a total period of six months. The evaluation of cognitive function was performed through the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE), while the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) assessed the depressive state. Test administration to all patients was performed before the start of the first session (T0) and after the last session (T1). The results obtained showed an improvement in the values in the GDS and MMSE tests. The variations between the average MMSE values between T1 and T0 were 0.94 ± 0.9 (SD), 0.15 ± 0.62, and −0.42 ± 0.45 in the AAT group, ROT group, and control (CTRL) group, respectively. The variations between the average GDS values between T1 and T0 were −1.12 ± 1.17 (SD), −0.42 ± 1.21, and 0.12 ± 0.66 in the AAT group, ROT group, and CTRL group, respectively. Based on our findings, we can therefore affirm how the study carried out confirms the potential of AAT performed by Federico II Model of Healthcare Zooanthropology, and particularly its efficacy in the treatment of cognitive deficits deriving from Alzheimer’s disease.