Effects of VA Facility Dog on Hospitalized Veterans Seen by a Palliative Care Psychologist: An Innovative Approach to Impacting Stress Indicators
The United States is home to 23 million veterans. In many instances, veterans with serious illness who seek healthcare at the VA receive care from a palliative care service. Animal-assisted intervention (AAI) is gaining attention as a therapeutic stress reducing modality; however, its effects have not been well studied in veterans receiving palliative care in an acute care setting. A crossover repeated-measures study was conducted to examine the effects of an animal-assisted intervention (AAI) in the form of a therapy dog on stress indicators in 25 veterans on the palliative care service at the VA Eastern Colorado Healthcare System in Denver, CO. Veterans had a visit from a therapy dog and the dog’s handler, a clinical psychologist (experimental condition) and an unstructured visit with the clinical psychologist alone (control condition). Blood pressure, heart rate, and the salivary biomarkers cortisol, alpha-amylase, and immunoglobulin A were collected before, after, and 30-minutes after both the experimental and control conditions. Significant decreases in cortisol were found when the before time period was compared to the 30-minutes after time period for both the experimental (p = 0.007) and control condition (p = 0.036). A significant decrease in HR was also found when the before time period was compared to the 30-minutes after time period for both the experimental (p = 0.0046) and control (p = 0.0119) condition. Results of this study supported that a VA facility dog paired with a palliative care psychologist had a measurable impact on salivary cortisol levels and HR in veterans.