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Companion Dog Foster Caregiver Program for Older Veterans at the VA Maryland Health Care System: A Feasibility Study

By H. K. Ortmeyer, L. C. Robey

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Abstract

Veterans experience mental health conditions at a disproportionate rate compared to their civilian counterparts, and approximately 60% of older veterans who receive their care through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) do not meet physical activity (PA) recommendations. We tested the Veterans as Foster Ambassadors program at the VA Maryland Health Care System to examine whether fostering a companion dog would improve PA and function, heart rate variability (HRV), balance, and quality of life (QOL) in older veterans. Participants wore an accelerometer for >/=10 days during each phase (30 day baseline vs. 60 day foster period) to measure daily PA (n = 4). Six-minute walk (6MW) and balance testing (n = 4) and 24 h heart rate (HR) and HRV (n = 2) were determined at baseline and during the foster period. Compared to baseline, there were significant increases in (a) distance during the 6MW, (b) daily steps, and (c) time spent in moderate activity during the foster period. 24 h HR decreased and time- and frequency-domain measures of HRV significantly increased in a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder during the foster period compared to baseline. All veterans offered positive feedback about the program and indicated that it was beneficial to them. The results from this pilot study provide evidence that fostering a companion dog can improve PA, health, and QOL in older veterans. Future research conducted with a larger sample size to validate the results is warranted.

Publication Title Int J Environ Res Public Health
Volume 16
Issue 21
ISBN/ISSN 1660-4601
DOI 10.3390/ijerph16214285
Language eng
Notes 1660-4601Ortmeyer, Heidi KRobey, Lynda CJournal ArticleResearch Support, Non-U.S. Gov'tSwitzerlandInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Nov 4;16(21). pii: ijerph16214285. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16214285.
Author Address Geriatric Research Education Clinical Center, VA Maryland Health Care System, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA. Heidi.Ortmeyer@va.gov.Department of Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA. Heidi.Ortmeyer@va.gov.Department of Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA. Lynda.Robey@va.gov.
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Tags
  1. Age
  2. Agencies and organizations
  3. Analysis
  4. Animal-assisted therapies
  5. Animals
  6. Bonds
  7. Caregivers
  8. Companion
  9. Disabilities
  10. Dogs
  11. Feasibility
  12. Heart rate
  13. Humans
  14. physical activity
  15. Pilot Projects
  16. Program Evaluations
  17. Studies
  18. United States of America
  19. veterans