Animal-Assisted Therapy's Influence on Sundown Syndrome in a Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

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The purpose of this quasi-experimental research design pre-test/post-test study was to determine if the non-pharmacological intervention of participation in an animal-assisted therapy group (AAT), held during the time when sundown syndrome occurs, had an impact on the number of associated behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD), the resident’s apathy, their quality of life, and the use of pharmacological interventions. A total of thirty-eight residents from a nursing and rehabilitation center were recruited to be part of the study. A retrospective chart review was conducted for descriptive demographics information, the number of behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) the participant was experiencing, and the number of pharmacological interventions required for these behavioral disturbances. The intervention was a supervised AAT activity group that was held three to four days a week, for forty-five minutes over the course of six weeks. The assessment tools were the following: The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Brief Assessment of Capacity to Consent (UBACC); the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE); Apathy Evaluation Assessment clinical version (AES-C); Quality of Life in Late-Stage Dementia (QUALID); and the Neuropsychiatric Inventory Nursing Home Version (NPI-NH). The findings, which were statistically significant, revealed that AAT was effective in reducing BPSD during sundowning, reducing the participants’ apathy improving and their quality of life. AAT also showed a statistically significant reduction in caregiver stress. This study contributes to the body of knowledge on non-pharmacological interventions for people with BPSD experienced during sundowning; decreasing use of pharmacological interventions for (BPSD); stabilization of the resident’s BPSD; and improving the resident’s apathy and their quality of life. Benefits from the AAT also extended to healthcare providers by decreasing the staff workload in managing the behavioral disturbances, decreasing stress, decreasing possible injury to staff, and improving performance.

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