Research has shown that animal-assisted activities have specific benefits for older adults, such as decreasing loneliness (Banks & Banks, 2002; Banks, Willoughby, & Banks, 2008; Calvert, 1989) and depression (Grubbs, Artese, Schmitt, Cormier, & Panton, 2016; Le Roux & Kemp, 2009; Moretti et al., 2010) while increasing positive emotion (Lutwack-Bloom, Wijewickrama, & Smith, 2005), motor activity (Grubbs et al., 2016), and verbal and social interactions (Berstein, Friedmann, and Malaspina, 2000; Fick 1993). Older adults with Alzheimer's disease experience specific benefits, such as increased socialization (Churchill, Safaoui, McCabe, & Baun, 1999; Greer, Pustay, Zaun, & Coppens, 2001; Mossello et al., 2011; Richeson, 2003) as well as decreased agitation (Churchill et al., 1999; Richeson, 2003) and anxiety (Kanamori et al., 2001; Mossello et al., 2011). The purpose of the present study is to examine the experiences of students participating in service-learning in order to evaluate the effectiveness of animal-assisted activities with older adults in long-term care facilities. The authors studied a total of 177 blog posts from the past six academic school years (2012-2018) using content analysis. These blogs were written by university students as a reflection on their required service-learning activities for a course on Animal-Assisted Therapy. Common themes from the blogs include: positive affect of the residents, increased conversations, reminiscence on the resident's past, and a facilitation of physical activity. Some residents did not want to interact with the team, and fewer residents had negative interactions or responses to the team. Animal-assisted activities seem to be promising in elder care settings in helping them initiate conversation, encouraging memory recall and physical activity, and inducing positive emotions. Students also reported experiencing positive effects from both their interactions with the residents as well as the therapy dogs, and the authors suggest further exploration of this topic.
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