Aarhus University Seal

Man’s best friend to visit nursing home residents

Behavioural scientists from Aarhus University have previously shown that a visit from a dog can have a positive effect on the elderly and people with dementia. Now the scientists are taking it a step further to examine how different types of interaction with dogs can affect the elderly and demented.

[Translate to English:] Interaktion med en hund kan være gavnligt for ældre og demente mennesker. Foto: Colourbox

Studies by behavioural scientists at Aarhus University show that visits from a dog can bring happiness and increase social interaction. Now the scientists will investigate whether a more focused use of visiting dogs can affect the lives of the elderly and people with dementia in nursing homes in order to get the most out of the dog visits. The project is funded by TrygFonden.


- We have previously looked at how elderly and demented people in nursing homes react to a dog, an interactive robot and a teddy bear. The elderly had a greater tendency to touch and interact with the dog and the robot. This indicates that interaction and feedback are important for how the elderly respond, explains senior researcher Karen Thodberg from the Department of Animal Science at Aarhus University, and continues:


- We also found that the response was dependent on the residents' cognitive functioning. That is, the more demented the person was, the more he or she focused on the "animal" we brought along for the visit. The better-functioning nursing home residents focused their attention on the person who accompanied the "animal".


Interactive dogs visit

Dogs give an immediate response to the elderly and people with dementia and are good at maintaining their desire to continue talking to them. The project that has just been started will examine how an interactive activity with the dog will affect the elderly and demented. Instead of a passive dog visit where the residents can look at the dog and scratch it behind its ears, the interaction will be more active. For example the residents will be able to give the dog treats and to play with it.


- We will examine whether the more interactive visits that allow a more intensive contact can trigger an even stronger response in the elderly or demented both during and between visits and in the long term. We will also examine whether the level of dementia affects the response and benefit of the dog visits and whether more active dog visits have the same effect on residents with varying degrees of dementia, says Karen Thodberg.


Nursing home visits

The studies will be carried out in eight nursing homes with a total of 256 residents. Residents will receive 12 visits twice a week over a period of six weeks. The visits will last for 10 minutes and be with or without a dog and with a high or low level of activity.


Residents will be evaluated to assess their cognitive level, daily functional level and symptoms of depression. In addition, the scientists will develop a tool to evaluate the residents' quality of life between visits. Stroking, talking and offering treats to a dog may affect the dog’s reactions. The scientists will therefore also observe the dog’s behaviour and welfare.


The scientists’ hypothesis is that visits offering intensive contact may trigger a stronger response in both the short and the long term than low-intensity visits, and that dog visits have positive effects on the residents' daily lives. The results will enable the development of guidelines for optimal dog visits to nursing homes for residents with different functional abilities and degrees of dementia. The results will also support the owners of the visiting dogs and ensure that dog owners and the staff at the nursing home get the best out of the dog visit.


The four-year project is a collaboration between the universities in Aarhus and Aalborg and is financed by TrygFonden.


For further information please contact: Senior researcher Karen Thodberg, Department of Animal Science, email: karen.thodberg@anis.au.dk, telephone: +45 8715 7938