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The use of pet-facilitated therapy in the treatment of depression in the elderly: A behavioral conceptualization of treatment effect

Joseph Edward Struckus, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In this study, the author investigated the hypothesis that an animal visitation program could alleviate depressed behaviors among a group of elderly subjects residing in a nursing facility. The program consisted of twice weekly visits of volunteers accompanying their dogs. The effect of the visits upon the patients was evaluated regularly using two behavioral monitoring devices (the Geriatric Rating Scale, and the Social Interaction Rating Scale) and two self-report questionnaires (the Geriatric Depression Scale, and the Profile of Mood States). Twenty-five subjects participated in the treatment. The performance of this group was compared with that of a matched no-treatment group. At the conclusion of the twelve week treatment, experimental subjects reported less depression, anxiety, anger, fatigue, and confusion. There were significant reductions in apathetic, withdrawn behaviors and significant increases in prosocial behavior. Control subjects were unchanged. The Pet Attitude and Experience Questionnaire (PAEQ) provided a quantitative representation of the quality of the subject's past experiences with and current attitudes toward pet animals. Grouping subjects by PAEQ scores revealed that experimental subjects who reported strongly positive experiences and attitudes improved significantly over control subjects, while experiments subjects with less positive attitudes and experiences failed to show significant improvement on the dependent measures. The role of pet-facilitated therapy as a behavioral treatment for depression in institutionalized elderly is discussed.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Struckus, Joseph Edward, "The use of pet-facilitated therapy in the treatment of depression in the elderly: A behavioral conceptualization of treatment effect" (1989). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9011804.