THURSDAY, March 10, 2022 (HealthDay News) — A day that includes a trip to the ER is probably stressful, but man’s best friend just might help him get through it, new research finds.
The study found a reduction in pain, anxiety and depression ranging from 43% to 48% in patients who were treated with a visit from a trained therapy dog while in the emergency department.
“The main thing is that we found that they helped reduce pain significantly, which is huge. We need to look further into this and why,” said study author Dr. Colleen Anne Dell, a professor in the department of sociology from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
In this clinical trial, researchers measured patients’ pain, anxiety, depression, and well-being on an established 11-point scale and recorded blood pressure and heart rate before, immediately after, and 20 minutes after a visit with a therapy dog at the Royal University Hospital.
Visits averaged 10 minutes, during which the dog trainer can chat about pets while the patient pets the dog.
Dell recalls a patient who explained his pain as if his brain was on fire. He had a lot of anxiety and depression. After the dog’s visit, the change was palpable, Dell said.
“You could feel like all that high-stress energy had just dissipated and you see the person petting the dog and having a conversation with the handler,” Dell said. “Sometimes they have conversations. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the dog just snuggles up against them and they get that comfort from that animal.”
About 80% of emergency department patients experience pain while they’re there, Dell said. Anxiety can make that worse.
Pain is complex and is both an emotional and sensory experience that is unique to each individual, Dell said. Dogs forge a connection with people in a way that is hard to explain. Part of this is that they are perceived to be nonjudgmental when humans often are not, Dell said.
Dogs are part of a care team in the emergency department. They are not there just for human welfare. It’s a two-way relationship, Dell emphasized.
“Their welfare is always looked after, to make sure they get something out of these visits. And that’s how these dogs are chosen. They just love, love, love people,” Dell said.
The findings were published online March 9 in the journal PLUS ONE.
Dr. Torree McGowan works in an emergency department at St. Charles Medical Center in Oregon and has also seen the value of having dogs in the ER.
“I think it’s really fun to start getting some data on things that seem really obvious to most of us, which is, for the most part, having an animal in a really stressful situation can help people relax and be calmer. “McGowan. said.
Children seem to respond especially well to animals, he said.
At St. Charles, the program calves animals whenever possible. Larger hospitals may have more dogs to work with and have them on a regular schedule, McGowan said.
For every procedure they do, emergency room doctors are considering what the risks and benefits might be, he noted.
“Having a therapy dog stop and interact with a person takes their mind off the fear and anxiety of waiting,” McGowan said.
While medications can have many side effects, with dogs, “having something that’s so safe, like a visit from a dog, is really a good opportunity to have in the ER because the risk is so small,” he said. McGowan.
Both McGowan and Dell noted that protocols, including training and grooming, keep pet therapy visits safe and hygienic for patients.
Therapy programs would be a great place for hospitals to partner with community organizations, McGowan suggested.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to start looking at patients not just as if it’s a disease and how we throw a drug at it, but to try to bring a little bit of humanity back to the way we care for patients,” he said. McGowan.
Dr. Erik Blutinger, an emergency room physician at Mount Sinai Queens Hospital in New York City, has seen firsthand that therapy dogs improve patients’ moods, even though his hospital does not currently have a dog program of therapy.
“I think their findings are potentially generalizable and reflect what I’ve seen in the clinical setting. I think well-being, depression and anxiety are key areas that require novel approaches to treat because they are so multifaceted and profound and often difficult to treat.” with well-defined therapy,” Blutinger said.
It’s not clear what the underlying mechanisms are for how spending time with a dog can ease a person’s pain and anxiety. Blutinger said that one possibility is that when something leads to satisfaction and enjoyment, it causes an increase in the level of dopamine in the body. He suggests that might counteract pain, as well as lower a person’s blood pressure and heart rate.
“I think this feeling of companionship is, I would say, an inherent feel-good quality, just physiologically speaking. And that is also what comes to the surface when patients come into contact with therapy dogs, for a variety of reasons,” Blutinger said.”But one can, I guess, be related to the evolutionary concept of just feeling better in groups and feeling like we can make a connection with other species, that’s a pretty powerful emotion.”
SOURCES: Colleen Anne Dell, PhD, Centennial Enhancement Chair in One Health and Wellness, professor, department of sociology, University of Saskatchewan, and senior research associate, Canadian Center on Substance Abuse and Addiction, Saskatchewan; Torree McGowan, MD, emergency physician, St. Charles Medical Center, Bend, Oregon; Erik Blutinger, MD, emergency physician and assistant professor, Mount Sinai Queens, New York City; PLUS ONEMarch 9, 2022, online
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