This summer a generous donation made by
Mr. Duncan Alexander, a long time supporter of programs at the College of
Veterinary Medicine, allowed for a ground-breaking Alzheimer’s study to be
performed. The study, “The Effect of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) with Horses
on the Psychological and Behavioral Symptoms of Persons with Alzheimer’s
Disease and Related Dementias,” was a collaborative effort between the College
of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Social Work. The research team was
led by Dr. Gwendolen Lorch, assistant professor of Veterinary Clinical
Sciences, and Dr. Holly Dabelko-Schoeny, associate professor at the College of
Social Work. Graduate students involved in the study were College of Veterinary
Medicine students Marie Jarden and Denise Johnson, and College of Social Work
students Sarah DeAnna and Emily Darrough.
“There is significant anecdotal evidence
suggesting that dementia patients benefit from interacting with horses,” said
Duncan Alexander. “The only way to prove this is through research, and I was
excited to be involved with such a ground-breaking study.”
The project involved bringing patients
with early stages of Alzheimer’s and other related dementias from Heritage Day
Health Centers in Columbus to the Field of Dreams Equine Education Center in
Blacklick. The patients went to the farm once a week for four weeks. At each
visit, the patients rotated through three stations: grooming and brushing;
haltering, leading, and handling the horses; and a final station where the patients
used finger-paint to paint the horses.
The stations were designed to increase
sensory stimulation as evidence has suggested that dementia patients are more
likely to remember how they felt during an event, rather than the event itself.
Alzheimer’s patients, like horses, are excellent at reading body language.
While people with Alzheimer’s may not know exactly what is happening around
them, like horses they respond to the body language of people around them.
“When I visited the farm and saw how the
patients interacted with the horses, it was amazing to see how happy and
invigorated they were,” Duncan Alexander said. “These are people that struggle to
remember and comprehend their day-to-day events, but they all remember the
wonderful times they have spent with the horses.”
This study used both qualitative and
quantitative methods of data collection. While the data from the study is still
being analyzed, everyone involved noticed substantial differences in the
patients that got to interact with the horses.
“I’m excited to see the results,” said
Alexander. “No matter what, this study is bound to lead to other related
studies, and this has been an amazing experience for everyone involved. My
thanks to all involved from Heritage Day Health Center, Field of Dreams, and
Ohio State, but in particular Dr. William Saville, whose extensive coordination
efforts made this project possible." (posted 9/2011)