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Therapeutic effects of dog visits in nursing homes for the elderly

By Karen Thodberg, Lisbeth Uhrskov Sørensen, Janne Winther Christensen, Pia Haun Poulsen, Birthe Houbak, Vibeke Damgaard, Ingrid Keseler, David Edwards, Poul B. Videbech

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Previous studies have suggested that visiting dogs can have positive effects on elderly people in nursing homes. We wanted to study the effects of biweekly dog visits on sleep patterns and the psychiatric well‐being of elderly people.


A total of 100 residents (median age: 85.5 years; [79; 90]) from four nursing homes were randomly assigned to receive biweekly visits for 6 weeks from a person accompanied by either a dog, a robot seal (PARO), or a soft toy cat. Sleep patterns were measured using actigraphy technology before, during (the third and sixth week), and after the series of visits. The participants were weighed and scored on the Geriatric Depression Scale, the Gottfries‐Bråne‐Steen Scale, and the Mini‐Mental State Examination before and after the visit period.


We found that sleep duration (min) increased in the third week when visitors were accompanied by a dog rather than the robot seal or soft toy cat (dog: 610 ± 127 min; seal: 498 ± 146 min; cat: 540 ± 163 min; F2,37 = 4.99; P = 0.01). No effects were found in the sixth week or after the visit period had ended. We found that visit type had no effect on weight (F2,88 = 0.13; P > 0.05), body mass index (F2,86 = 0.33; P > 0.05), Geriatric Depression Scale (F2,82 = 0.85; P > 0.05), Gottfries‐Bråne‐Steen Scale (F2,90 = 0.41; P > 0.05), or Mini‐Mental State Examination (F2,91 = 0.35; P > 0.05). Furthermore, we found a decrease in the Geriatric Depression Scale during the experimental period (S = −420; P < 0.05), whereas cognitive impairment worsened as shown by a decrease in Mini‐Mental State Examination score (S = −483; P < 0.05) and an increase in the Gottfries‐Bråne‐Steen Scale (t = 2.06; P < 0.05).


Visit type did not affect the long‐term mental state of the participants. The causal relationship between sleep duration and dog‐accompanied visits remains to be explored.

Publication Title Psychogeriatrics
Volume 16
Issue 5
Pages 289-297
ISBN/ISSN 1346-35001479-8301
Publisher Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
DOI 10.1111/psyg.12159
Language English
Author Address Thodberg, Karen, Department of Animal Science, Aarhus University, P.O. Box 50, DK-8830, Tjele, Denmark
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted activities
  2. Animal-assisted therapies
  3. Animal visitation programs
  4. Cognitive disorders
  5. Depression
  6. Dogs
  7. Geriatrics
  8. Nursing homes
  9. open access
  10. sleep
  11. Sleep disorders
  1. open access