August 9, 2018 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

By Victoria Almeida, Work Study Student

A study conducted in partnership with King’s and McCormick Dementia Research (a newly-founded division of the McCormick Care Group) has showcased the positive benefits of animal therapy among individuals with dementia. Julie Casey, a social worker and animal-assisted therapy specialist, was the study lead, and aimed to study the fundamental reactions of people living with dementia to animals. King’s Social Work graduates David Knezevic ‘17 and Joanne Ebear ‘05 also assisted with data analysis and writing during the study. This study focused specifically on the reactions to farm animals, such as chickens and sheep, as many of the participants in the study have a background in agriculture.

The outcomes of the study have been positive, including a decrease of verbally aggressive behavior and signs of depression in participants, along with less resistance to care. The animal therapy has also produced reactions out of otherwise unresponsive residents. A 90-year-old woman who rarely communicated began happily chatting while cradling one of the visiting chickens.

Dr. Rick Csiernik, project manager and Social Work Professor at King’s, says: “Human-animal interaction can produce a range of positive outcomes. On the biological level, there is the release of oxytocin, which is a hormone that is associated with positive effect."

Although there was not improvement in all areas, due to the progressive nature of dementia, it can be concluded the animals did contribute to improved well-being to residents living with dementia.

“Animals offer us a deeply rooted connection,” says Julie Casey. “They awaken in us some profound emotions, memories and social connectedness that transcend any limits imposed by mental challenges.”