Healing Through Animals- Animal assisted Therapy

Animals have coexisted with us in harmony for thousands of years and have even been revered as protectors and deities in several ancient civilizations. The first documented instance of healing through animals was noted by Florence Nightingale in her book ‘Notes on Nursing’ in the 1800s, where she mentioned small animals assisting in recovery. In 1989, an animal education group called the Delta Society proposed a certification program for animal assisted therapy, and these guidelines are still in use in pet therapy. There has been widespread use of animals, including dogs, cats, pigs, guinea pigs, and horses, in animal assisted therapy, with dogs being the most common. It’s the 21st of September 1994, in Edinburgh, when Alzheimer’s International-an organisation dedicated for research and spreading of awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, celebrated the 1st “World Alzheimer’s’ Day”. The day and the entire month of September is utilised to enhance our knowledge, in one of the most common causes of dementia in elderly-Alzheimer’s’ disease. It dates back to the year 1906, when Dr Alzheimer Aloi named the disease, which he discovered in a lady, he had first encountered in 1901.In a day and age like ours, good lifestyle practises are comprised. We have breakfast that is instant, processed and easy to eat, on the go, work long hours while sometimes skipping meals, stay up late and grab just a few winks and most importantly, do not find time to exercise or meditate. We are caught up in a race for time, money, power and in general, life itself. When on the one hand technological advancements have made life easier, they have also successfully tipped the scale onto the other side with the plethora of side effects their existence brings with them. As I sit down to write this blog, I cannot help but think of my parents and the myriad number of uncles and aunts that I am privileged to have in my life. Their countless stories, compelling experiences, and collective wisdom have shaped me and influenced my worldview. As a child, I have watched them chase their dreams, conquer challenges, and embrace new experiences with an insatiable thirst for life. Their homes bustling with activity, the tantalizing aroma of delectable dishes wafting through the air, our holidays were a delightful experience that left cherished memories etched in our hearts. Now in their 70s and 80s, their boundless energy dissipated, I see them struggle with the complexities of ageing. Their homes empty, the children having flown the coop, I see them struggle with loneliness seeking solace in memories and in each other, awaiting the phone call from the ever-busy progeny. They have considerably slowed down physically and mentally, and falls have become the norm. Regular doctor visits, multiple medications, and aches and pains are the new normal. I see their struggle as they attempt to assimilate themselves into a rapidly changing world, struggling to use WhatsApp, G-Pay, and manage Teleconsults. I also see the impatience in many of the younger generation tech-geeks. With the passing of their contemporaries and near and dear ones, our elders grapple with grief and their own mortality, often reflecting on the fragility of life and the inevitability of their own journey’s end. I returned from my parent’s home a few weeks ago, and my father’s words still echo in my ears. He said, “You should learn to detach yourself from us now. Learn to let go of us.” It’s the 21st of September 1994, in Edinburgh, when Alzheimer’s International-an organisation dedicated for research and spreading of awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, celebrated the 1st “World Alzheimer’s’ Day”. The day and the entire month of September is utilised to enhance our knowledge, in one of the most common causes of dementia in elderly-Alzheimer’s’ disease. It dates back to the year 1906, when Dr Alzheimer Aloi named the disease, which he discovered in a lady, he had first encountered in 1901.It’s the 21st of September 1994, in Edinburgh, when Alzheimer’s International-an organisation dedicated for research and spreading of awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, celebrated the 1st “World Alzheimer’s’ Day”. The day and the entire month of September is utilised to enhance our knowledge, in one of the most common causes of dementia in elderly-Alzheimer’s’ disease. It dates back to the year 1906, when Dr Alzheimer Aloi named the disease, which he discovered in a lady, he had first encountered in 1901.In a day and age like ours, good lifestyle practises are comprised. We have breakfast that is instant, processed and easy to eat, on the go, work long hours while sometimes skipping meals, stay up late and grab just a few winks and most importantly, do not find time to exercise or meditate. We are caught up in a race for time, money, power and in general, life itself. When on the one hand technological advancements have made life easier, they have also successfully tipped the scale onto the other side with the plethora of side effects their existence brings with them. Animals have coexisted with us in harmony for thousands of years and have even been revered as protectors and deities in several ancient civilizations. The first documented instance of healing through animals was noted by Florence Nightingale in her book ‘Notes on Nursing’ in the 1800s, where she mentioned small animals assisting in recovery. In 1989, an animal education group called the Delta Society proposed a certification program for animal assisted therapy, and these guidelines are still in use in pet therapy. There has been widespread use of animals, including dogs, cats, pigs, guinea pigs, and horses, in animal assisted therapy, with dogs being the most common.As I sit down to write this blog, I cannot help but think of my parents and the myriad number of uncles and aunts that I am privileged to have in my life. Their countless stories, compelling experiences, and collective wisdom have shaped me and influenced my worldview. As a child, I have watched them chase their dreams, conquer challenges, and embrace new experiences with an insatiable thirst for life. Their homes bustling with activity, the tantalizing aroma of delectable dishes wafting through the air, our holidays were a delightful experience that left cherished memories etched in our hearts. Now in their 70s and 80s, their boundless energy dissipated, I see them struggle with the complexities of ageing. Their homes empty, the children having flown the coop, I see them struggle with loneliness seeking solace in memories and in each other, awaiting the phone call from the ever-busy progeny. They have considerably slowed down physically and mentally, and falls have become the norm. Regular doctor visits, multiple medications, and aches and pains are the new normal. I see their struggle as they attempt to assimilate themselves into a rapidly changing world, struggling to use WhatsApp, G-Pay, and manage Teleconsults. I also see the impatience in many of the younger generation tech-geeks. With the passing of their contemporaries and near and dear ones, our elders grapple with grief and their own mortality, often reflecting on the fragility of life and the inevitability of their own journey’s end. I returned from my parent’s home a few weeks ago, and my father’s words still echo in my ears. He said, “You should learn to detach yourself from us now. Learn to let go of us.” It’s the 21st of September 1994, in Edinburgh, when Alzheimer’s International-an organisation dedicated for research and spreading of awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, celebrated the 1st “World Alzheimer’s’ Day”. The day and the entire month of September is utilised to enhance our knowledge, in one of the most common causes of dementia in elderly-Alzheimer’s’ disease. It dates back to the year 1906, when Dr Alzheimer Aloi named the disease, which he discovered in a lady, he had first encountered in 1901.In a day and age like ours, good lifestyle practises are comprised. We have breakfast that is instant, processed and easy to eat, on the go, work long hours while sometimes skipping meals, stay up late and grab just a few winks and most importantly, do not find time to exercise or meditate. We are caught up in a race for time, money, power and in general, life itself. When on the one hand technological advancements have made life easier, they have also successfully tipped the scale onto the other side with the plethora of side effects their existence brings with them. As I sit down to write this blog, I cannot help but think of my parents and the myriad number of uncles and aunts that I am privileged to have in my life. Their countless stories, compelling experiences, and collective wisdom have shaped me and influenced my worldview. As a child, I have watched them chase their dreams, conquer challenges, and embrace new experiences with an insatiable thirst for life. Their homes bustling with activity, the tantalizing aroma of delectable dishes wafting through the air, our holidays were a delightful experience that left cherished memories etched in our hearts. Now in their 70s and 80s, their boundless energy dissipated, I see them struggle with the complexities of ageing. Their homes empty, the children having flown the coop, I see them struggle with loneliness seeking solace in memories and in each other, awaiting the phone call from the ever-busy progeny. They have considerably slowed down physically and mentally, and falls have become the norm. Regular doctor visits, multiple medications, and aches and pains are the new normal. I see their struggle as they attempt to assimilate themselves into a rapidly changing world, struggling to use WhatsApp, G-Pay, and manage Teleconsults. I also see the impatience in many of the younger generation tech-geeks. With the passing of their contemporaries and near and dear ones, our elders grapple with grief and their own mortality, often reflecting on the fragility of life and the inevitability of their own journey’s end. I returned from my parent’s home a few weeks ago, and my father’s words still echo in my ears. He said, “You should learn to detach yourself from us now. Learn to let go of us.” It’s the 21st of September 1994, in Edinburgh, when Alzheimer’s International-an organisation dedicated for research and spreading of awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, celebrated the 1st “World Alzheimer’s’ Day”. The day and the entire month of September is utilised to enhance our knowledge, in one of the most common causes of dementia in elderly-Alzheimer’s’ disease. It dates back to the year 1906, when Dr Alzheimer Aloi named the disease, which he discovered in a lady, he had first encountered in 1901.It’s the 21st of September 1994, in Edinburgh, when Alzheimer’s International-an organisation dedicated for research and spreading of awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, celebrated the 1st “World Alzheimer’s’ Day”. The day and the entire month of September is utilised to enhance our knowledge, in one of the most common causes of dementia in elderly-Alzheimer’s’ disease. It dates back to the year 1906, when Dr Alzheimer Aloi named the disease, which he discovered in a lady, he had first encountered in 1901.In a day and age like ours, good lifestyle practises are comprised. We have breakfast that is instant, processed and easy to eat, on the go, work long hours while sometimes skipping meals, stay up late and grab just a few winks and most importantly, do not find time to exercise or meditate. We are caught up in a race for time, money, power and in general, life itself. When on the one hand technological advancements have made life easier, they have also successfully tipped the scale onto the other side with the plethora of side effects their existence brings with them.

Animals used for pet therapy are carefully selected for their calm nature, interaction with humans, and ability to follow commands. These animals are specifically trained for therapy in various aspects, with trained handlers forming a pet therapy team.

Anxiety, loneliness, sadness, anger, and feelings of insecurity are all very common, especially when one is sick, and more so in people with chronic illnesses, life-limiting diseases, or the elderly admitted to nursing homes, care homes, or hospices. Animals are known to bring about positive emotions, build confidence, provide emotional support, and nurture compassion, reducing negative emotions, just by being non-judgmental, affectionate, and attentive. The act of petting a dog or holding onto one can create a sense of security and comfort. Published data points to the significant benefits of animal assisted therapy in many areas of health-related suffering, and in the current era, pet therapy or animal assisted therapy is recognized as a scientific intervention to promote health and encourage healing.Undoubtedly it is a disease of the elderly, but about 5% people develop the disease in middle age as well. Life comes to a standstill, with Alzheimer’s and things turn haywire. The theme for this year is – “It’s never too early, It’s never too late” (hence the title!). It refers to the early identification of risk factors as well as proficient risk reduction for prevention of the disease, as Alzheimer’s begins 20 years before the development of noticeable symptoms. Unfortunately, it is an incurable, progressive, neurogenerative disorder leading to decrease in cognition, loss of memory and impairment of mental functions. The disease leads to the death of nerve cells, with consequent inflammation and shrinkage of the brain. The early symptoms are difficulty in recalling names, events, lack of enthusiasm, followed by depressive episodes, poor judgement and behavioural changes. In the late stages of the disease, it might be difficult to walk and speak for patients. Some patients leave home and are lost forever. Cancer related mortality is a hot subject of research conducted in various universities the world over and many a time, in collaboration with the WHO. A study on the Indian cancer statistics conducted by The Lancet in year 2012, reported a staggering 5,55,000 cancer deaths in India, in 2010 alone. Also, research led by Dr. Prabhat Jha, the Director for Centre for Global Health Research, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, in year 2012 resulted in a model that is now being used as a reference to compute cancer deaths in India. They employed a unique method of arriving at statistics by extrapolating information derived from studying cancer patterns and mortalities in our country between years 2000 and 2003, using a sample of households. Another notable agency is the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) whose GLOBOCAN database forms the basis for recording cancer incidences in India. Similarly Dr. Jha’s model is used to study cancer mortalities in India. India Today iterated that cancer deaths worldwide were approximately 8.2 million in year 2012. Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has projected that by year 2020, the total number of cancer mortalities in the country will be nearly 17.3 lakh. In year 2016, the highest number of cancer cases was estimated to be of breast cancer followed by lung cancer. With such daunting statistics in hand proven and projected through research, it is of great relief to come to the realization that advanced medical procedures are now available that have been found to increase the human life span by almost 30 to 40 years. Organizations that specialize in palliative care for terminally ill patients are the new go-to centres for families with patients suffering from chronic illnesses. In India, where traditions and family values run deep, the significance of this day cannot be overstated. We have a rich cultural heritage that has been nurtured and preserved over centuries. Our elders are the living repositories of our heritage. One of the strong landmarks of our society is the emphasis on family bonds. Traditional Indian values have emphasized the value of respecting our elders, along with caring for them as our collective responsibility. As India modernizes and moves towards a more individualistic society, we seem to be losing the plot, with one in six of our elderly being abandoned and abused. The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, empowers elders to seek redressal if they are abused or neglected, but what about the social isolation, love, and care they need? How can we as a society generate intergenerational solidarity?The disease leaves the option of only palliation of symptoms. The challenge is that, with passage of time, the symptoms become resistant to the medications and the increase in dose leads to intolerable side effects. Talking about achievements, Aducanumab and lecanemab are 2 FDA approved drugs for modifying the underlying pathology of the disease. Well, they are again not cure for Alzheimer’s, but they do decline the rate of progression of the disease and can be useful if used in early phase of the disease. Undoubtedly it is a disease of the elderly, but about 5% people develop the disease in middle age as well. Life comes to a standstill, with Alzheimer’s and things turn haywire. The theme for this year is – “It’s never too early, It’s never too late” (hence the title!). It refers to the early identification of risk factors as well as proficient risk reduction for prevention of the disease, as Alzheimer’s begins 20 years before the development of noticeable symptoms. Unfortunately, it is an incurable, progressive, neurogenerative disorder leading to decrease in cognition, loss of memory and impairment of mental functions. The disease leads to the death of nerve cells, with consequent inflammation and shrinkage of the brain. The early symptoms are difficulty in recalling names, events, lack of enthusiasm, followed by depressive episodes, poor judgement and behavioural changes. In the late stages of the disease, it might be difficult to walk and speak for patients. Some patients leave home and are lost forever. Cancer related mortality is a hot subject of research conducted in various universities the world over and many a time, in collaboration with the WHO. A study on the Indian cancer statistics conducted by The Lancet in year 2012, reported a staggering 5,55,000 cancer deaths in India, in 2010 alone. Also, research led by Dr. Prabhat Jha, the Director for Centre for Global Health Research, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, in year 2012 resulted in a model that is now being used as a reference to compute cancer deaths in India. They employed a unique method of arriving at statistics by extrapolating information derived from studying cancer patterns and mortalities in our country between years 2000 and 2003, using a sample of households. Another notable agency is the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) whose GLOBOCAN database forms the basis for recording cancer incidences in India. Similarly Dr. Jha’s model is used to study cancer mortalities in India. India Today iterated that cancer deaths worldwide were approximately 8.2 million in year 2012. Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has projected that by year 2020, the total number of cancer mortalities in the country will be nearly 17.3 lakh. In year 2016, the highest number of cancer cases was estimated to be of breast cancer followed by lung cancer. With such daunting statistics in hand proven and projected through research, it is of great relief to come to the realization that advanced medical procedures are now available that have been found to increase the human life span by almost 30 to 40 years. Organizations that specialize in palliative care for terminally ill patients are the new go-to centres for families with patients suffering from chronic illnesses. Anxiety, loneliness, sadness, anger, and feelings of insecurity are all very common, especially when one is sick, and more so in people with chronic illnesses, life-limiting diseases, or the elderly admitted to nursing homes, care homes, or hospices. Animals are known to bring about positive emotions, build confidence, provide emotional support, and nurture compassion, reducing negative emotions, just by being non-judgmental, affectionate, and attentive. The act of petting a dog or holding onto one can create a sense of security and comfort. Published data points to the significant benefits of animal assisted therapy in many areas of health-related suffering, and in the current era, pet therapy or animal assisted therapy is recognized as a scientific intervention to promote health and encourage healing.In India, where traditions and family values run deep, the significance of this day cannot be overstated. We have a rich cultural heritage that has been nurtured and preserved over centuries. Our elders are the living repositories of our heritage. One of the strong landmarks of our society is the emphasis on family bonds. Traditional Indian values have emphasized the value of respecting our elders, along with caring for them as our collective responsibility. As India modernizes and moves towards a more individualistic society, we seem to be losing the plot, with one in six of our elderly being abandoned and abused. The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, empowers elders to seek redressal if they are abused or neglected, but what about the social isolation, love, and care they need? How can we as a society generate intergenerational solidarity?Undoubtedly it is a disease of the elderly, but about 5% people develop the disease in middle age as well. Life comes to a standstill, with Alzheimer’s and things turn haywire. The theme for this year is – “It’s never too early, It’s never too late” (hence the title!). It refers to the early identification of risk factors as well as proficient risk reduction for prevention of the disease, as Alzheimer’s begins 20 years before the development of noticeable symptoms. Unfortunately, it is an incurable, progressive, neurogenerative disorder leading to decrease in cognition, loss of memory and impairment of mental functions. The disease leads to the death of nerve cells, with consequent inflammation and shrinkage of the brain. The early symptoms are difficulty in recalling names, events, lack of enthusiasm, followed by depressive episodes, poor judgement and behavioural changes. In the late stages of the disease, it might be difficult to walk and speak for patients. Some patients leave home and are lost forever. Cancer related mortality is a hot subject of research conducted in various universities the world over and many a time, in collaboration with the WHO. A study on the Indian cancer statistics conducted by The Lancet in year 2012, reported a staggering 5,55,000 cancer deaths in India, in 2010 alone. Also, research led by Dr. Prabhat Jha, the Director for Centre for Global Health Research, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, in year 2012 resulted in a model that is now being used as a reference to compute cancer deaths in India. They employed a unique method of arriving at statistics by extrapolating information derived from studying cancer patterns and mortalities in our country between years 2000 and 2003, using a sample of households. Another notable agency is the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) whose GLOBOCAN database forms the basis for recording cancer incidences in India. Similarly Dr. Jha’s model is used to study cancer mortalities in India. India Today iterated that cancer deaths worldwide were approximately 8.2 million in year 2012. Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has projected that by year 2020, the total number of cancer mortalities in the country will be nearly 17.3 lakh. In year 2016, the highest number of cancer cases was estimated to be of breast cancer followed by lung cancer. With such daunting statistics in hand proven and projected through research, it is of great relief to come to the realization that advanced medical procedures are now available that have been found to increase the human life span by almost 30 to 40 years. Organizations that specialize in palliative care for terminally ill patients are the new go-to centres for families with patients suffering from chronic illnesses. In India, where traditions and family values run deep, the significance of this day cannot be overstated. We have a rich cultural heritage that has been nurtured and preserved over centuries. Our elders are the living repositories of our heritage. One of the strong landmarks of our society is the emphasis on family bonds. Traditional Indian values have emphasized the value of respecting our elders, along with caring for them as our collective responsibility. As India modernizes and moves towards a more individualistic society, we seem to be losing the plot, with one in six of our elderly being abandoned and abused. The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, empowers elders to seek redressal if they are abused or neglected, but what about the social isolation, love, and care they need? How can we as a society generate intergenerational solidarity?The disease leaves the option of only palliation of symptoms. The challenge is that, with passage of time, the symptoms become resistant to the medications and the increase in dose leads to intolerable side effects. Talking about achievements, Aducanumab and lecanemab are 2 FDA approved drugs for modifying the underlying pathology of the disease. Well, they are again not cure for Alzheimer’s, but they do decline the rate of progression of the disease and can be useful if used in early phase of the disease. Undoubtedly it is a disease of the elderly, but about 5% people develop the disease in middle age as well. Life comes to a standstill, with Alzheimer’s and things turn haywire. The theme for this year is – “It’s never too early, It’s never too late” (hence the title!). It refers to the early identification of risk factors as well as proficient risk reduction for prevention of the disease, as Alzheimer’s begins 20 years before the development of noticeable symptoms. Unfortunately, it is an incurable, progressive, neurogenerative disorder leading to decrease in cognition, loss of memory and impairment of mental functions. The disease leads to the death of nerve cells, with consequent inflammation and shrinkage of the brain. The early symptoms are difficulty in recalling names, events, lack of enthusiasm, followed by depressive episodes, poor judgement and behavioural changes. In the late stages of the disease, it might be difficult to walk and speak for patients. Some patients leave home and are lost forever. Cancer related mortality is a hot subject of research conducted in various universities the world over and many a time, in collaboration with the WHO. A study on the Indian cancer statistics conducted by The Lancet in year 2012, reported a staggering 5,55,000 cancer deaths in India, in 2010 alone. Also, research led by Dr. Prabhat Jha, the Director for Centre for Global Health Research, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, in year 2012 resulted in a model that is now being used as a reference to compute cancer deaths in India. They employed a unique method of arriving at statistics by extrapolating information derived from studying cancer patterns and mortalities in our country between years 2000 and 2003, using a sample of households. Another notable agency is the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) whose GLOBOCAN database forms the basis for recording cancer incidences in India. Similarly Dr. Jha’s model is used to study cancer mortalities in India. India Today iterated that cancer deaths worldwide were approximately 8.2 million in year 2012. Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has projected that by year 2020, the total number of cancer mortalities in the country will be nearly 17.3 lakh. In year 2016, the highest number of cancer cases was estimated to be of breast cancer followed by lung cancer. With such daunting statistics in hand proven and projected through research, it is of great relief to come to the realization that advanced medical procedures are now available that have been found to increase the human life span by almost 30 to 40 years. Organizations that specialize in palliative care for terminally ill patients are the new go-to centres for families with patients suffering from chronic illnesses.

Author: Dr. Babita P Abraham VarkeySeema R Rao Author: Dr Pratyasa PadhiDr. Babita P Abraham Varkey Author: Seema R RaoSeema R Rao Author: Dr Pratyasa Padhi

Associate Medical Director
Bangalore Hospice Trust – Karunashraya
Bengaluru, India
Associate Medical Director Associate Director (Education and Research)
Karunashraya Institute for Palliative Care Education and Research (KIPCER)
Bengaluru, India
Honorary Tutor, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, UK