Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Influence of Interactive Behaviors Induced by a Therapy Dog and Her Handler on the Physiology of Residents in Nursing Homes: An Exploratory Study

Nilsson, Anne; Lidfors, Lena; Wichman, Anette; Handlin, Linda; Petersson, Maria; Uvnas-Moberg, Kerstin

Abstract

The aim of this exploratory study was to investigate interactive behaviors performed between residents at nursing homes and a therapy dog and her handler and explore if they influenced residents' physiological variables such as fingertip temperature, heart rate, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The therapy dog-handler team visited 12 older people at three nursing homes for 60 min twice a week during a four-week period. The visits were videotaped, and the duration of interactive behaviors was recorded. The physiological variables were measured before (0 min) and after (60 min) the interaction between the residents and the dog-handler team, and the delta value was calculated. The interactive behaviors during the first two and the last two weeks were as follows: the resident looking at the dog (799 and 697 s/h), the resident in physical contact with the dog (183 and 109 s/h, p < 0.001, Wilcoxon signed-rank test), the resident playing with the dog (123 and 126 s/h), the resident talking with others (559 and 511 s/h), and the dog handler having physical contact with the resident (822 and 764 s/h). The mean values for fingertip temperature, heart rate, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure did not differ significantly between the first and two last weeks (paired t-test). However, the delta values varied largely between the different residents. The more physical contact the residents had with the dog handler, the more the fingertip temperature increased (p < 0.05, mixed linear model). The duration of physical contact between the residents and the dog tended to be associated with an increased fingertip temperature (p < 0.1). Furthermore, the more the residents were in verbal contact with the dog handler, the more their heart rate decreased (p < 0.05). These results demonstrate some associations between specific interactive behaviors and physiological changes in residents in connection with visits by a dog-handler team.

Keywords

Human-animal interaction; nursing home; physiological changes; sympathetic nervous system; therapy dog

Published in

Anthrozoös
2024, Volume: 37, number: 2, pages: 323-342 Publisher: ROUTLEDGE JOURNALS, TAYLOR AND FRANCIS LTD