Exposing the mechanisms underlying successful animal-assisted interventions for people with dementia: a realistic evaluation of the Dementia Dog Project

Louise Ritchie*, Sam Quinn, Debbie Tolson, Nick Jenkins, Barbara Sharp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

There is increasing recognition of animal-assisted interventions as a promising area of practice within health and social care for people living with dementia. However, much of the research focuses on benefits for those living in care homes and not in their own homes. The Dementia Dog Project is an innovative project that aims to support people with dementia to engage with dogs and to promote the use of dogs in dementia care in the community. The pilot project introduced a dementia assistance dog to four couples where one person had a diagnosis of dementia. The aim of this paper is to explore the mechanisms that can successfully expose the benefits of integrating dogs into dementia care by drawing on the findings of a realistic evaluation of the pilot phase of the Dementia Dog Project (2013–2015). A realistic evaluation, with its focus on context, mechanisms and outcomes illuminates why an approach may work in some situations but not in others. This makes it especially appropriate to the unique, complex experience of living with dementia and the early development stage of the programme. The analysis triangulated data from a range of primary and secondary sources including interviews with the project team, case reports, team meeting notes and transcripts of interviews with participants. The findings identified three mechanisms that help to unlock the most positive outcomes for both the participants and the dogs. These were (1) the human–animal bond, (2) relationship dynamics and (3) responsibility of caring. The findings presented within this paper provide essential information to inform and advance the planning for the use of assistance dogs for people with dementia.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDementia
Early online date23 Jul 2019
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Jul 2019

Keywords

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Animal-assisted intervention
  • Assistance dogs
  • Dementia
  • Realistic evaluation

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