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    • 28 Oct, 2019

    Ground-breaking research discovered on benefits of animal-assisted therapy

    Mayhew, in partnership with the Department of Mental Health and Social Work at Middlesex University, have launched a ground-breaking report in Parliament evidencing the benefits of animal assisted therapy (AAT) on elderly people in a care home – including a 12% increase in the self-assessed ‘quality of life’ of residents.

    mayhew middlesex animal assisted therapy research dog therapy

    Dogs have a transformative role in society

    Since its inception in 2012, Mayhew’s TheraPaws programme has promoted the emotional and mental health benefits derived from of interacting with a dog, both during and after each AAT session.

    Through the evidence of high quality qualitative and quantitative research, Middlesex University researchers have now generated empirical evidence to demonstrate that AAT has a transformative impact on participants involved in the TheraPaws programme.

    Researchers observed that dogs enrolled in the programme have “clearly evidenced therapeutic value”, and “play a proactive role in meeting the emotional needs” of those who receive AAT.

    Scientific evidence gathered by the researchers also proves that care home based AAT is proficient at:

    • Reducing loneliness
    • Improving mood
    • Inspiring communication
    • Bridging gaps and building better relationships between residents and their friends, family and carers; and
    • Providing a general sense of community and companionship


    “This research backs up everything we know and have been saying for years - that not only does AAT improve the quality of life for elderly people in care homes, but that spending time with a dog also helps combat loneliness and decreases feelings of isolation and exclusion; due to an animals unique ability to be a non-judgemental and receptive companion.”

    Niamh Carwood

    TheraPaws Coordinator

    Making care homes happier with Mayhew”

    The final report produced by Middlesex University is one of the only studies on the impact of AAT on elderly people in a care home which is considered to include high quality, evidence based empirical results.

    Most impressively, our report detected at 12% increase in the mean overall quality of life of residents without a diagnosis of dementia. In addition:

    • 80% of residents reported that they ‘enjoyed’ or ‘very much enjoyed’ the visits from the dog.
    • 58% of residents reported that TheraPaws sessions made them feel ‘very happy’.
    • 63% of residents actively looked forward to the sessions each week.

    Cara, a TheraPaws volunteer, started visiting care homes with her dog Hugo in 2018. She says “The residents are always so pleased to see Hugo. They get so much pleasure out of his visits, stroking him and feeding him treats. If anybody wants a cuddle, Hugo goes up on their bed – he is a sensitive dog and knows exactly what each person needs. He curls up next to people to help calm them down if they are sad or in distress.”

    Without exception, care home staff also described how the TheraPaws visits contributed to a noticeable positive uplift amongst residents, and seemed to generate a happier atmosphere within the whole care home. This lifting of mood even lasts for hours after the dogs leave.

    A resident who took part in our 12 week study said “I love this dog. He’s my best friend.”

    One of the carers added “These sessions are extremely dear to the residents. They want to do them over and over again, and they cannot stop talking about the dogs. Everyone laughs and smiles a lot when a dog is here.”

    Filling a critical gap in the understanding of AAT

    Despite the widespread popularity of AAT, there is currently a limited amount of empirical evidence pertaining to the impact of the therapy, including on older people in care homes.

    Middlesex University researchers found only four low quality qualitative studies into AAT from the past decade, and the majority of the 36 more recent quantitative studies were also found to be of low quality.

    Our report therefore fills a critical research gap, offering both quantitative and qualitative evidence of the benefits of AAT. During the study, our researchers set out to discover:

    • The immediate and short term impact(s) of AAT on residents’ wellbeing and overall quality of life;
    • The perceived benefits of AAT from residents’ perspectives; and
    • The perceived benefits of AAT from the perspective of care home staff, care management teams and TheraPaws volunteers.

    Individual researchers joined existing TheraPaws volunteers and their dogs as they conducted AAT sessions in four different care homes across London, over a 12 week period.

    As is usual in the TheraPaws programme, these sessions lasted between 60-90 minutes once every week or fortnight. Overall, 54 adult residents participated in regular sessions during the study period.

    Researchers used a mixed methods approach to collecting evidence and data, including group and individual observations, focus groups and questionnaires.

    “Our research showed that for some care home residents, particularly those with dementia, the TheraPaws visits offered a moment of joy with a dog that could have lasting effects on the resident’s mood. ”

    Dr Briony Jane

    Research Fellow and primary author of the report

    “There were also many other positive benefits facilitated by the TheraPaws visits – including triggering a memory of a forgotten time or place; the opportunity for residents to interact socially with the volunteer (who represented a friend and a link to the outside world); and a chance for care home staff to get to know the older person better, outside of the usual care routine.

    “There is just so much value in this type of programme for the vast majority of care home residents and their quality of life that it cannot be overlooked.”

    Mayhew and Middlesex University research animal assisted therapy roobarb therapy dog

    Next steps

    Caroline Yates, CEO of Mayhew, said “We are delighted to be releasing this ground-breaking research and report with Middlesex University on Mayhew’s TheraPaws programme. The report enables us to show the proven and very real benefits of animal assisted interventions in the care home setting – something, of course, as passionate dog lovers we felt deep down all along!

    “It is extremely exciting that TheraPaws is being validated in this way and lays the ground for further research in to the benefits of our programme across the social care and mental health sectors.”

    “This research is a true representation of the benefits and the power of the human animal bond, and our findings will undoubtedly help to change the perception of how people see animals. I am confident that our report will have a positive and significant impact in the world of animal welfare.”

    Zoe Edwards

    Head of Animal Welfare

    Given the success of this research, we are now planning to extend the partnership between Mayhew and Middlesex University, and we intend to undertake new research into the impact of AAT on mental health in 2020.

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