Background: There is evidence that animal-assisted therapy has positive effects on mental health, especially in elderly people. Caring for insects is easy, relatively inexpensive, and does not require much space. Objective: The aim of this 8-week randomized, controlled, single-blinded study was to investigate the effect of pet insects on the psychological health of community-dwelling elderly people. Methods: Elderly subjects (≥65 years old) attending a community center in Daegu, Korea, were enrolled in the study between April and May 2014 and randomized at a 1:1 ratio to receive insect therapy and health advice or only health advice. The insect group received 5 crickets in a cage with sufficient fodder and a detailed instruction manual. At baseline and at 8 weeks, all subjects underwent psychometric tests via a direct interview [Beck Anxiety Inventory, Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS-15), Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), 36-Item Short Form Health Survey, Insomnia Severity Index, Fatigue Severity Scale, and Brief Encounter Psychosocial Instrument] and laboratory analyses of inflammatory and oxidative stress markers (erythrocyte sedimentation rate, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, biological antioxidant potential, and derivatives of reactive oxygen metabolites). Results: The insect-caring (n=46) and control (n=48) groups did not differ in baseline characteristics. The insect-caring group had significantly lower GDS-15 scores at week 8 (3.20 vs. 4.90, p=0.004) and, after adjustment for baseline values, a significantly greater change in GDS-15 scores relative to baseline (-1.12 vs. 0.20, p=0.011). They also had a significantly greater change in MMSE scores relative to baseline (1.13 vs. 0.31, p=0.045). The two groups did not differ in terms of other psychometric and laboratory tests. No serious risks or adverse events were reported. Conclusion: Caring for insects, which is cost-effective and safe, was associated with a small to medium positive effect on depression and cognitive function in community-dwelling elderly people.
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