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5th World Congress on Cancer Therapy

Atlanta, USA

Amy McCullough

American Humane Association, USA

Title: The effects of animal- assisted interventions (AAIs) for pediatric oncology patients and their parents at five hospital sites


Biography: Amy McCullough


Purpose: While anecdotal evidence underscores the positive impact of therapy dogs for children with cancer and their families, rigorous studies of effi cacy are currently lacking, even as animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) occur daily in today’s pediatric oncology settings. Th is national, multi-site study is the fi rst of its kind to rigorously measure the psychosocial eff ects of AAIs for this population. Specifi cally, researchers are interested in whether or not AAIs have positive eff ects on patient stress, anxiety and health-related quality of life and on parent stress and anxiety, as well as whether or not therapy dogs experience distress during AAI sessions. Methods: Patients, aged 3-17 years and recently diagnosed with cancer, and their parents are randomly selected to receive either their standard of care treatment for their diagnosis only or their standard of care plus regular, 15 minute visits from a registered therapy dog and handler in the outpatient clinic or inpatient unit. Both study cohorts participate for 4 months by completing psychosocial and behavioral instruments at designated intervals. Children also have their blood pressure and pulse measured at the beginning and end of each session. Results: Since 2014, 49 patients/families and 31 therapy dog-handler teams have been enrolled across the 5 study sites. Preliminary patient, parent, and therapy dog fi ndings will be presented, as well as lessons regarding successfully implementing AAIs in pediatric oncology settings. Data collection for this study will continue through late 2015. Anticipated fi ndings from this groundbreaking research will increase access to therapy dogs in hospital environments, inform AAI best practices and standards in the context of serious pediatric illness and, most importantly, improve well-being outcomes for children and families facing the considerable challenges of childhood cancer.