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Can therapy dogs evoke awareness of one's past and present life in persons with Alzheimer's disease?
Sophiahemmet University.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0781-3771
Sophiahemmet University.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0197-9121
2015 (English)In: International journal of older people nursing, ISSN 1748-3743, Vol. 10, no 2, 84-93 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

BACKGROUND: Persons with Alzheimer's disease (AD) sometimes express themselves through behaviours that are difficult to manage for themselves and their caregivers, and to minimise these symptoms alternative methods are recommended. For some time now, animals have been introduced in different ways into the environment of persons with dementia. Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) includes prescribed therapy dogs visiting the person with dementia for a specific purpose.

AIM: This study aims to illuminate the meaning of the lived experience of encounters with a therapy dog for persons with Alzheimer's disease.

METHOD: Video recorded sessions were conducted for each visit of the dog and its handler to a person with AD (10 times/person). The observations have a life-world approach and were transcribed and analysed using a phenomenological hermeneutical approach.

RESULTS: The result shows a main theme 'Being aware of one's past and present existence', meaning to connect with one's senses and memories and to reflect upon these with the dog. The time spent with the dog shows the person recounting memories and feelings, and enables an opportunity to reach the person on a cognitive level.

CONCLUSIONS: The present study may contribute to health care research and provide knowledge about the use of trained therapy dogs in the care of older persons with AD in a way that might increase quality of life and well-being in persons with dementia.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: The study might be useful for caregivers and dog handlers in the care of older persons with dementia.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. Vol. 10, no 2, 84-93 p.
Keyword [en]
Alzheimer's disease, Caring, Existence, Memories, Phenomenological hermeneutics, Therapy dog
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:shh:diva-1599DOI: 10.1111/opn.12053PubMedID: 24814254OAI: diva2:723904
Available from: 2014-06-11 Created: 2014-06-11 Last updated: 2015-06-10Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. "Being in the present": the meaning of the interaction between older persons with Alzheimer's disease and a therapy dog
Open this publication in new window or tab >>"Being in the present": the meaning of the interaction between older persons with Alzheimer's disease and a therapy dog
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The number of persons with Alzheimer’s disease is increasing world-wide and the disease affects the persons, their families, the health care system and the economy within society worldwide. The symptoms and behaviours caused by Alzheimer’ disease may be difficult to manage for the person and their caregivers. Alternative methods are recommended before pharmacological treatment. The presence of a therapy dog has been described as beneficial, in for instance increasing well-being and alleviating symptoms and dementia behaviours. The overall aim of this thesis was to gain a deeper understanding of the influence of therapy dogs on persons with Alzheimer’s disease from the person’s and the dog handler’s perspectives. Further, adopting a longitudinal perspective, the study investigates the therapy dog’s influence on activity and sleep for persons with Alzheimer’s disease. Video observations of five persons with Alzheimer’s disease interacting with a therapy dog (I, II), as well as interviews with nine dog handlers (III) were gathered and transcribed. Data was analyzed using a phenomenological hermeneutical method (I, II, III). Registration of activity and sleep was conducted over a period of 16 weeks using an Actigraf that generated curves, and were then analysed using descriptive statistics (III). The time spent with the dog revealed memories and feelings resulting in existential thoughts of oneself and life, which then connected to the present situation (I). Distancing oneself from the symptoms of the disease when interacting with the dog showed a person functioning in the present with the dog, striving for the dog’s best and putting the dog before and above oneself (II). The therapy dog’s presence showed no pattern of effect on the patients’ daytime activity and sleep. The findings instead pointed to a great variety of possible different effects, bringing about increased activity at different time points, for example during night-time sleep (III), creating a respite from illness and contributing wordlessly to an existence but thoroughly directed by the dog handler, where the person was comfortable and took the initiative (IV). In conclusion, the therapy dog team’s presence with the person with Alzheimer’s disease induced meaning that allowed the person’s hidden qualities and abilities to develop and, when observed from a person-centred perspective, also brought out the individual in each person

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Karolinska Institutet, 2015. 69 p.
Animal-assisted therapy, Alzheimer's disease, Descriptive statistics, Lifeworld, Memories, Person-centred care, Phenomenological hermeneutics, Therapy dog
National Category
urn:nbn:se:shh:diva-1828 (URN)978-91-7549-847-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2015-04-17, H3 blå, Alfred Nobels Allé 23, Huddinge, 09:00
Available from: 2015-04-08 Created: 2015-04-08 Last updated: 2016-06-09Bibliographically approved

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