AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 28, Number 3, 2019

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Animal-assisted therapy improves social behavior in patients with brain injuries

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Animal-assisted therapy can foster social competence in patients with brain injuries and increase their emotional involvement during therapy. These were the findings of a clinical trial conducted by psychologists from the University of Basel.

After a severe traumatic brain injury, patients often exhibit problems in their social behavior. For instance, they may suffer from reduced emotional empathy and show impaired emotional expression, all contributing to communicative problems in social interactions.

Stimulating engagement and motivation

Animal-assisted therapy is increasingly being used in rehabilitation in order to improve these deficits in patients’ social competence. Integrating animals into therapy can, for example, stimulate patient engagement and motivation. In collaboration with REHAB Basel, the clinic for neurorehabilitation and paraplegiology, and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, researchers in the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Basel have now undertaken the first systematic study on in-patients with acquired brain injury to assess the effectiveness of this therapy method.

The study involved conducting animal-assisted therapy sessions for 19 adult participants alongside conventional therapy sessions. The patients’ social behavior were recorded and evaluated during over 200 animal-assisted and conventional therapy sessions. The study also documented patient mood and satisfaction and their treatment motivation – an important criterion in therapeutic success.

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