Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dementia and AAT

Murphy and I are part of a year-long project created to determine the benefits of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) for individuals with dementia living in the memory unit of an elder-care facility. The project is divided into 10-week sessions, followed by a week off for debriefing, then another 10 weeks. This post is about the third week of session 1. 

Week 3. At 2:30 four of the six residents involved in our project made their way to our meeting room. Murphy greeted each one, all wags and happy dog energy. We re-introduced ourselves. Then Murphy and I left the room while one of the interns gave someone in the room a treat to hide in her hand. Murphy and I were called back into the room and Murphy's job was to find the treat with his nose. With the cue "find the treat", he went from person to person, snuffling hands in search of something tasty. The ladies laughed out loud as he went from one to the other until he found what he was looking for. When he did, he was rewarded with the treat and lots of "atta boys". We repeated this exercise with each individual and it met with the same result each time.

Next, Murphy and I left the room again. This time the residents - with assistance from the interns - prepared for the muffin pan game (see Murphy demo the game here). Each resident had the opportunity to choose a treat from a container, drop it into the muffin pan and place a tennis ball on top of it. When fully loaded, the tin was placed on the floor and Murphy and I re-entered the room. Murphy removed one tennis ball at a time, finding the treat beneath it. His audience laughed, encouraged him and when he finished - applauded his effort. The applause (which Murphy seems to love) was met with him taking a big, beautiful bow - which brought more applause and laughter.

After the muffin pan game, the interns guided the group, with Murphy in the lead, out into the hall for a "scavenger hunt". There were paw prints taped to the walls for the ladies to follow. If there was any question about what direction to go, on cue Murphy would rise on his hind legs and touch the next paw print on the wall. Along the way the ladies found questions about pets they have had in their lives. Ex.: Did your pets live in the house or outside? These questions prompted short conversations with an intern or Murphy and me. As we made our way back to the meeting room, the ladies interacted with Murphy, talking to him and touching his head or back as he made his way from one to the next.

Back in our meeting room, Murphy demonstrated his version of retrieving. I tossed a remote control under a chair. Then I pointed and asked him to pick it up and bring it to me. He did just that, delivering the remote to my hand. Again, the ladies were very vocal with their praise for Murphy, petting him enthusiastically at every opportunity. For our last activity of the hour, I asked each lady to come forward individually and stand in front of Murphy. Then I whispered a cue and she asked for that behavior. Sit, down, and take a bow were performed flawlessly, each lady being very proud of the fact that she could get Murphy to do what she asked.

We then made the rounds one last time, saying goodbye to each lady. Each left the room happy, spirits lifted by interaction with a therapy dog.  

Note: One of our regulars does not remember Murphy's name. It is common for her to ask his name a dozen or more times in a short period. On this day, twice when she asked the question "What is his name", she responded before I could with ... "Murphy". And THAT is why we do what we do. Job well done, Murph!

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