Animal-Assisted Activity in Critically Ill Older Adults: A Randomized Pilot and Feasibility Trial

Sandy Branson, Lisa Boss, Shannan Hamlin, Nikhil S. Padhye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Limited evidence suggests the efficacy of animal-assisted activities (AAA) in improving biobehavioral stress responses in older patients in intensive care units (ICUs). Objectives: To assess the feasibility of an AAA (dog) intervention for improving biobehavioral stress response, measured by self-reported stress and anxiety and salivary cortisol, C-reactive protein, and interleukin-1β in older ICU patients, we examined enrollment, attrition, completion, data collection, and biobehavioral stress responses. Methods: ICU patients ≥60 years old were randomly assigned to a 10-min AAA intervention or control/usual ICU care. Attitudes toward pets were assessed before the intervention. Self-reported stress and anxiety and salivary stress biomarkers were collected before and after the intervention and the usual care condition. Results: The majority of patients were ineligible due to lack of decisional capacity, younger age, inability to provide saliva specimens, or critical illness. Though 15 participants were randomly allocated (AAA = 9; control = 6), only 10 completed the study. All participants completed the questionnaires; however, saliva specimens were significantly limited by volume. AAA was associated with decreases in stress and anxiety. Biomarker results were variable and revealed no specific trends associated with stress responses. Conclusions: Barriers to recruitment included an insufficient number of patients eligible for AAA based on hospital policy, difficulty finding patients who met study eligibility criteria, and illness-related factors. Recommendations for future studies include larger samples, a stronger control intervention such as a visitor without a dog, greater control over the AAA intervention, and use of blood from indwelling catheters for biomarkers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)412-417
Number of pages6
JournalBiological Research for Nursing
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • animal-assisted therapy
  • anxiety
  • critical care
  • older adult
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Research and Theory


Dive into the research topics of 'Animal-Assisted Activity in Critically Ill Older Adults: A Randomized Pilot and Feasibility Trial'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this