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University College London Hospitals Case Study

Published:
Thursday 21 July 2016


This case study looking at pet therapy for older people in acute care settings has been sent in by Kirsty McCune, Older Adult Clinical Nurse Specialist and Madeleine McMillan Lead Clinical Nurse Specialist for Older People at University College London Hospital.

Please describe the initiative

The majority of older people in acute care settings have some degree of frailty, emotional or cognitive decline. Many may also be affected by associated depression or anxiety, isolation and have reduced availability for positive interactions with others. There is increasing evidence that pet therapy can contribute numerous health and well-being benefits. The concept and integration of using ‘pets as therapy 'particularly in the acute healthcare setting however has been slow to evolve. The aim of this project is to explore the benefits of introducing dog therapy to acutely unwell, frail or cognitively impaired older adults on two acute medicine for the elderly wards as a means to improve emotional wellbeing, loneliness, comfort, and stress and increase social well-being in terms of social interaction and the nurse-patient relationship.

How much did it cost?

UCLH Case StudyThere was no cost. All those involved were volunteers devoting their time and compassion. Many thanks to David Sharpe & Nelson the dog, Deborah Taffler from TheraPaws & Noodle the dog, as well as Mayhew Animal Hospital for their time and devotion to UCLH.

What was the impact on patients ?

The planned pet visits to the ward were twice weekly over a period of 6 months.  We observed 20 patients looking at mood, engagement & interaction using a pre and post visit observation tool. The tool was based on the validated Bradford wellbeing scoring system. Evidence sought through direct observation and feedback demonstrated that pet therapy had a positive impact upon this patient group. This small observational study has shown many positive outcomes as the result of the pet therapy in lifting patient’s mood, increasing their social well-being and enhancing the therapeutic nurse-patient relationship.

Patient feedback: ‘I like dogs I have fond memories with my dogs'.

From our observations the patient’s mood appeared to lift and many patients appeared more engaged in their interaction with the nurse. We also found that patients engaged with each other in social interaction which appeared to uplift their mood.

What was the impact on the identified family carers / advocates?

The qualitative feedback sought post pet therapy showed many positive outcomes, such as,

 ‘She’s been much brighter today, she really liked seeing the dog‘.

 ‘My mum hasn’t spoken for 3 weeks until she saw the dog’.

What was the impact on staff members?

Quotes from staff include:

Nurse: ’She’s having a good day, she been a lot more engaged’.

Ward Sister: ‘Having a dog on the ward really facilitated conversation amongst patients within the bay’

‘The nurses can talk to patients about something other than their illness’.

What conclusions did you come to?

UCLH case study 2Evidence sought through direction observation and feedback demonstrated that pet therapy had a positive impact upon this patient group. This small observational study has shown many positive outcomes as the result of the pet therapy in lifting patient’s mood, increasing their social well-being and enhancing the therapeutic nurse-patient relationship. Further research is required as this project only involved a small number of inpatients. Yet considering the encouraging evidence,  we believe that pet-therapy can significantly improve the overall well-being of older people in the acute hospital setting.

Do you have any ‘top tips’ you would like to share?

There are two ‘top tips’ we would like to share.  Planning is essential for the whole process. There has to be communication between all departments particularly with matrons, the ward sister and infection control.