Interaction with pets has proved to be beneficial in a number of situations in human health care. The Delta Society has a very successful program of Animal Assisted Activities and Animal Assisted Therapy called the Pet Partners Program. Purina is the sponsor of this program.
As indicated above the Pet Partners Program has two components; Activities and Therapy. As explained in detail in this Delta Society handout each component has distinct activities and goals. For instance, Animal Assisted Activities (AAA), involve largely unstructured visits to health care facilities. The emphasis here is on simple interaction and the health benefits that can accrue from simply being around animals.
Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) on the other hand has more specific therapeutic goals. A therapy pet may be used to encourage physical recovery from a stroke or injury. A patient may be encouraged to stand to pet or groom a therapy dog or to take brief walks with the therapy dog. Apparently people try harder and focus better when a therapy dog is involved.
Both activities can be helpful in Alzheimer therapy. In many cases Alzheimer patients show improved cognitive and verbal skills and improved social interactions through the involvement of AAA. Interactions with dogs facilitate better moods and fewer behavioral alterations and increase the verbal interaction among patients.
This is an area near and dear to my own heart. I've written before about my father-in-law and how his two dogs are such a big help in keeping him active and engaged. It's a wonderful relationship.
The Pet Partners Program can train interested volunteers in both areas. Having been around since 1990, The Pet Partners Program really has it act together. They can take you and your dog through evaluation and specific training and in the end, hook you up with a network of care facilities around the country that need and appreciate the benefits of AAA and AAT.
I'd seriously encourage anyone looking to get involved in this area to take a look at what this program has to offer. It's a prime example of the value of the human animal bond and a demonstration of why we have pets in out lives.