Pet Therapy and Institutionalized Elderly

Pet Therapy and Institutionalized Elderly

Operational Definitions

  • Pet Therapy refers to the aspect of using pets as a form of treatment. It is mainly used as a way of improving the psychological mood of an individual.
  • Institutionalized elderly is defined as the process of keeping the elderly who suffer from cognitive psychological diseases within an institution, so that the institution takes care of them.
  • Psychological wellbeing refers to the mindset of an individual.


















The world opened its doors to pet therapy in the early 1960’s.The United States was the first country to embrace Pet therapy and since then, it  has found its way across the eight continents. There is no doubt that old age is one of the most challenging times in the life of an individual. I say so because people wear out and become vulnerable rather easily (Fine 6). For this reason, it is important to leave the old in the hands of people who have the experience and the care of tending to them. That is where institutionalized elderly comes in.

In the institutions that they are always kept, the elderly occasionally suffer from pathological relapses reason being they think that their families have abandoned them. In order to deal with the frequent psychological relapses, various institutions where the elderly are kept have embraced pet therapy. This research paper seeks to establish whether the introduction of pets into the lives of the elderly can improve their psychological wellbeing.


In carrying out this research, Giovanni Colombo and his team from the University of Padua incorporated seven institutionalized elderly homes in Italy. Their original plan was to use 622 participants. At the beginning, they managed to get some information from the elderly patients through the use of questionnaires which they answered with the assistance of the nurses. However, their selection procedure left them with only 144 participants out of which 97 were males while the rest were females (Colombo 207-216).

Giovanni Colombo and his team then divided the participants into three groups. In the process of division, they considered gender, age and level of education attained by each of the participants. The first group was given a plant; the second group was given nothing while the third group was given a canary. The third group was instructed on the mechanisms of taking care of the canary. The research was carried out through three-month duration (Colombo 207-216). At the beginning of the research, the team lead by Giovanni Colombo issued the participants with a 25-item questionnaire that tested them on various aspects of their lives. Some of the areas that they were tested under included their physical functioning, social functioning as well as the life functioning scale. In addition, their extent of depression was also asked in the questionnaire. The scale used by the team was zero as the best score and three as the lowest score. In the process of the research, Psychologists would often visit the seven various institutions just to be kept up to date on the extent of happenings. After the three-month duration, the same questionnaire was issued to the participants and they were to be assisted in filling the forms by the psychological nurses. For clarity purposes, therefore it is important to mention that the members of group two who were not given anything act as the independent variables while those who fall in groups one and three act as the dependent variable (Colombo 207-216).


After the research period, it was noted that those participants in group one who were issued with plants were more inclined towards sensitivity while those who were in group two did not register any notable observation in regard to the score. The scores by participants in group three showed that they were more obsessed with the animal (Colombo 207-216). In terms of the levels of depression, it was noted that depression reduced significantly among those who were in group one and three while that of those in group two remained constant. In regard to the BSI scaling, it was observed that though the improvement level was minimal, the margin of improvement in group three was a bit higher.

In regard to the self-care scale, it was recorded that the members of the animal group did have a good autonomous judgment as compared to members of other groups (Colombo 207-216). The overall results based on the scores attained at the end of the research showed that those members who were in groups one and three had an improved sense of belonging and viewed life more positively.


The results that were attained in the research go in line with the current findings and works done by several other researchers in the recent past. From the research, it is clear that though plants and animals can be viewed as part of life and considered lightly by other human beings, they come in handy in ensuring the psychological development of the elderly. They provide the elders with a new a new perception. The fact that depression level goes down in itself is a great accomplishment.


The research carried out by the University of Pueda, no doubt signifies how important pets are to the elderly. The fact that the depression levels of those who were given the canary reduced shows that the pets can act as the perfect antidote in ensuring that the elderly are  kept under the proper psychological conditions. The only area that I think the team ought to have done much better is the population that took part in the research. We are told that the total number of participants was 144, never the less it would have been better if they used a larger number and see how that turns out.

In addition, the research was carried out in Italy which is by all standards a good place, however, the researching team ought to have sampled people from across a larger demographic location like some in Europe, North America, South America and Africa. This would have given us a more clear perspective. Nevertheless, I trust the reliability of the research because it considered all the necessary research aspects. In addition, it was approved as a credible research by the world research organization.

I hold the opinion that the research is quite reliable. This is due to the fact that then team managed to prove that indeed pets do play a role in the psychological wellbeing of an individual. In conclusion, the research supports the friendship that has existed between human kind and animals. Moreover, just as those who keep pets would say, a time comes in life when the pets we keep are warmer towards us than fellow human beings are.


Works Cited

Colombo, Giovanni. “Pet Therapy and Institutionalized Therapy: A study on 144 cognitively       unimpaired objects.” SCIENCE DIRECT (2002): 207-216.

Fine, Auburey H. Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy. New York: Delmer, 2011.