Animal-Assisted Therapy and Application to Older Adults in Long Term Care

Kimberly Ann Mercer


In the past thirty years animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has moved beyond anecdotal status to a scientific evidence-based intervention. AAT comes in many shapes and sizes. There are a variety of animals which can be used such as dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, guinea pigs, goats, dolphins, and even fish aquariums. Loneliness is a common theme among older adults in long term care (LTC). Many older adults living in LTC facilities feel isolated. Some have little contact with family members or friends. Many describe feelings of loneliness and withdraw from social activities and interaction with others. Some feel as if they have nothing to look forward to and find no useful purpose in life.  The absence of having another to care for or nurture can also be distressing. The purpose of this project was to explore the use of AAT as an intervention to decrease loneliness in residents living in a LTC setting by introducing visits from a Sphynx cat registered by the Delta Society as a therapy animal. The project sample consisted of seven participants all over the age of 60 years who resided in a LTC facility in Texas. Pre-intervention and post-intervention checklists and open-ended questions were employed to collect data from participants. Analysis of the project findings revealed a notable decrease in loneliness.


Animal-assisted therapy, older adults, loneliness, long term care.

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