|The Nando Peretti Foundation has approved a project
to set up and deliver innovative and standardized methodologies
based on human-animal interactions for the care of the
institutionalized elderly. Results of the project will be
disseminated by means of specific workshops organized at the
Istituto Superiore di Sanità and addressed to policy makers,
physicians and nurses working in the National Health System. A
consensus conference on AAT will be organized by the projects'
working group on December 4-5th 2008 at ISS. Public Health officers,
physicians, nurses, veterinarians as well as AAT operators will be
invited to share their experience with the public and to promote
novel guidelines to implement Pet therapy.
The group at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS), which plays
a major advisory role in the Italian health system, has the
expertise and credentials to conduct the proposed Project. In the
last ten years, the ISS has been taking a leading role in Italy in
the coordination of Pet therapy programs (see http://www.iss.it/neco/).
ISS has been selecting and advertising high standard training
activities (mainly University courses and Masters) through our
website and have sponsored pilot experiences in order to promote
research on Pet therapy at the national and international level with
the aim of fostering the study of human-animal interactions and of
documenting their effectiveness in healing. ANUCSS, which is
responsible for animal's conduction during the therapies, has a
long-standing experience in dog-assisted therapies with elderly
people in institutionalized settings which will improve project
feasibility. ANUCSS intervention protocols employ only professional
staff and appropriately selected and trained animals. A staff of
veterinarians ensures the well being of the animals used in the
Animal Assisted Therapies (AAT), commonly known as Pet therapy, are
goal-directed interventions in which an animal selected, according
to specific criteria, as an integral part of the treatment process.
AAT are delivered and/or directed by a health/human service provider.
AAT are designed to improve human physical, social, emotional,
and/or cognitive functioning. They are provided in a variety of
settings and may involve groups or be individual in nature. This
process is documented and evaluated.
The elderly population is undoubtedly sensitive to change and loss.
Aging is a delicate stage of life which makes old subjects highly
vulnerable to pathological relapses and deterioration in somatic,
psychic and quality of life. Separations from the family - as in the
case of rest home residents - and marginalization and isolation that
often stem from institutionalization, thus became important
risk-factors of depression and other diseases. In the
institutionalized elderly there is evidence that pet therapy may
reduce depression, blood pressure, irritability and agitation, and
may increase social interactions. In an epidemiological study the
presence of a pet was found to have a positive effect on survival in
old subjects that had suffered from infarction. In Alzheimer's
disease there is evidence that the presence of a companion animal
may increase social behaviours such as smiles, laughs, looks, leans,
touches, verbalizations, name-calling, or others. Moreover, Pet
therapy can reduce loneliness and depression in residents of
long-term care facilities, particularly in people with a prior
history of pet ownership.
The presence of a pet has also been found to lead to increased
verbal interactions among residents. Overall, AAT have progressively
revealed their ability to heal as well as to provide opportunities
to enhance the quality of the life of people with physical and
At the institutional level, growing efforts have raised attention in
Pet therapies. However, no methodologies have been fully
standardized and implemented for the therapeutic exploitation of
animals, although the pressing need to help affected categories,
especially elderly in long-term care facilities, has stimulated
scattered efforts at an explosive pace.
The aim of this study is to assess whether a Pet therapy program has
a beneficial effect on the psychological well-being, particularly on
aspects related to depressive symptoms and perception of quality of
life, in the cognitively intact, institutionalized elderly.
More specifically, main Objectives of the study will be:
1) Assess the impact of Dog-assisted therapies in an
institutionalized elderly population recruited in nursing homes in
the Lazio Region by means of objective neuropsychological and
physiological measurements of the subject's well being with a
special reference to psychological and physiological measures of
stress (using non-invasive methodologies).
2) Promote and implement novel methodologies for the care of the
institutionalized elderly to reduce old subject's isolation, improve
their social life, their attention abilities and their independency.
Informed consent from the patients and approval by the ISS Ethical
Committee will be sought.