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Background: Many observations of the behavior of elderly people with handicaps or demential diseases during an intervention with well trained therapy-dogs lead to the assumption, that the use of such dogs under defined conditions can improve the well-being of elderly people who are mentally challenged. The aim of this study was to examine, if the presence of a therapy-dog has positive effects on visual reactions of the participant shown in facial expression, gesture and body language during an intervention of 45 minutes and if so, if these effects are significant.
Method: During a period of nine weeks 16 mentally challenged participants of 50 to 75 years of age were examined by means of 42 taken measurements. The participants themselves served as their own control-group. Communication frequency, happiness, anger, fear, attention, activity and physical contact were rated by evaluating video material (13 items).
Results: Analysis of the results showed a positive significant effect on communication, attention and happiness during the intervention with therapy-dogs. An additional result showed that nearly all participants chose to get in contact with the dog and to touch the dog and that fear was only shown in minor extent.
Discussion: The discussed results point at a possible improvement in life-quality of mentally challenged people that can be achieved by using therapy-dogs. However the small number of participants and the short-time-study has shown that further investigation with corresponding extension is required. Nevertheless, results lead to the conclusion that the regular presence of therapy-dogs in facilities of care can be a great help and also enrichment for daily routine of mentally challenged people.