Behavioral Responses of Nursing Home Residents to Visits From a Person with a Dog,a Robot Seal or a Toy Cat

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  • Karen Thodberg
  • Lisbeth U Sørensen, Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark
  • Poul B Videbech, Psychiatric Centre Glostrup, Denmark
  • Pia Haun Poulsen
  • ,
  • Birthe Houbak
  • Vibeke Damgaard, Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark
  • Ingrid Keseler, Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark
  • David Edwards
  • ,
  • Janne Winther Christensen
Previous studies suggest that contact with dogs can positively affect the wellbeing of elderly people in nursing homes, but there is a lack of research investigating the causal pathways of these effects. One such path- way may relate to the behavioral responses of the elderly when interacting with a dog. The present study compared the immediate behavioral responses of nursing home residents to bi-weekly visits from a person accompanied by either a dog, a robot seal (PARO®), or a soft toy cat, using a randomized controlled design. A total of 100 nursing home residents com- pleted the study. Each participant received a total of 12 visits, during which their behaviors, including interactions between the visitor and the accom- panying animal (real or artificial), were recorded. Also, data on cognitive im- pairment, presence of depressive symptoms, age, time lived in the nursing home, dementia diagnoses, and gender were collected. We found that the immediate responses to, and interaction with, the visiting animal depended on the type of animal that was brought along. The dog and the interactive robot seal triggered the most interaction, in the form of physical contact (F(2,103) = 7.50, p < 0.001), eye contact (F(4,151) = 6.26, p < 0.001), and verbal communication (F(4,195) = 2.87, p < 0.05). As well, the cognitive impairment level of the residents affected with whom they interacted. The higher the cognitive impairment level, the more interaction was directed toward the animal and less toward humans, regardless of visit type (F(2,101) = 4.10, p < 0.05). The dogs and the robot seal stimulated the residents to more in- teraction, compared with the toy cat, but the robot seal failed to maintain the attention at the same level over time. The cognitive functioning of the residents correlated with the level of interaction, and this needs to be studied further.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-121
Publication statusPublished - 2016

    Research areas

  • animal-assisted therapy, cognitive impairment, nursing home, quantitative behavior sampling, visiting dog

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