|Barked: Sat Nov 19, '05 12:23am PST |
|I think this is great, there has finally been a controlled scientific study on the effects of therapy dogs on patients!
Barking up the right tree: Hospital volunteers with dogs
Study links pet visits to drop in stress hormone in patients
By Lawrence K. Altman
New York Times News Service
Published November 18, 2005
DALLAS -- For people hospitalized with advanced heart disease, it is better to have visitors than to lie quietly alone. But one type of visitor seems to be especially beneficial, researchers reported this week.
That visitor is a dog.
In the first controlled study of the effects of pet therapy in a random sample of acute and critically ill heart patients, anxiety as measured on a standard rating scale dropped 24 percent for those visited by a dog and a human volunteer, by 10 percent for those visited by a volunteer alone and not at all for those with no visitors.
Similar results were found in measures of heart and lung function.
The pet therapy study was reported in Dallas on Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association. Its author, Kathie Cole, a nurse at UCLA, said that 76 patients with heart failure, a condition that affects an estimated 5 million Americans, were randomly assigned one of the three visit types. The dogs, from 12 breeds, were screened for behavior and disease before participating in the study.
Some patients in the first group, Cole said, "began to smile and immediately engaged in conversation with dog and volunteer." Their worries seemed to vanish from their faces, she said.
The researchers examined the patients three times: right before the 12-minute visit, 8 minutes into it and 4 minutes after it was over.
Besides the anxiety measurement, researchers found that patients' levels of epinephrine, a hormone the body makes when under stress, dropped 17 percent when visited by a person and a dog, and 2 percent when visited by only a person. Epinephrine levels rose an average of 7 percent in the unvisited group in the study, which was financed by the Pet Care Trust Foundation, a non-profit group.
Pressure in the heart's top left chamber dropped 10 percent after a visit by volunteer and dog. The same pressure rose 3 percent for those visited by a volunteer and 5 percent for the unvisited group. Pressure in the pulmonary artery dropped 5 percent during and after a visit by volunteer and dog, but rose in the other two groups.
Cole urges further studies to determine how long the benefits lasts, saying: "Dogs are a great comfort. They make people happier, calmer and feel more loved. That is huge when you are scared and not feeling well."
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