Wellness Care Farm

Nourishing Hearts

The Research Partners

Farm Animal Assisted Therapy & Dementia

Julie Casey MSW, RSW

Research Question

How does Farm Animal Assisted Therapy impact the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia for residents living in long term care?

Research Setting & Population

The research study is being conducted at McCormick Home, a long term care facility built on 8 acres of land, located in London, Ontario providing health and support services to the elderly for more than 120 years. A total of 160 long-term care residents are cared for in 5 resident home areas, including Memory Lane which is a dedicated dementia care wing providing 24 hour a day specialized care to 32 residents from Registered Nurses, Registered Practical Nurses and Personal Care Assistants. The home strives to create an environment that encourages residents to be as active, independent and involved in life as possible. The facility has both private and semi-private bedrooms and  is funded by the South West Local Health Integration Network, along with the support of the McCormick Home Foundation that provides additional funding through fundraising strategies. The operation of McCormick Home is overseen by the McCormick Care Group, which was previously known as the Women’s Christian Association; a non-denominational charitable organization of female leaders based in London, Ontario that are involved in compassionate care to the community, including the establishment of McCormick Home, Alzheimer Outreach Services, Parkwood Hospital and Wellspring London and Region. The McCormick Care Group is strategically working towards becoming a leader in dementia care through the collaboration with dementia experts and leaders in research and education (McCormick Home, 2016).

Recruitment of Research Sample

A purposive sampling method was utilized for the residents living in the Memory Lane home area of the facility where specialized dementia care is provided 24 hour a day to 32 residents. The residents living in this area have been previously screened and diagnosed with dementia by the facility physician, meeting the the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for a major and mild neurocognitive disorder and were assessed to be in the middle to late stages of dementia.

The Inclusion criteria include:​

  • An interest in animals ​
  • Positive animal experiences and could​
  • Benefit from stimulation​

The Exclusion criteria include:​

  • Severe animal allergies​
  • Intense animal fears or dislikes and a ​
  • History of animal abuse ​

The BOAT Inventory of Animal Related Experiences  (BIARE) will be used to screen for abuse.​

Sample Size

16 Residents


The study is 14 weeks in duration:

          i) a two week period of time where pre-intervention data is collected

          ii) eight weeks of formal programming

          iii) a four week period for post-intervention data collection

Participants are assigned to one of two intervention groups, where both groups receive 1 hour of group animal assisted therapy three times per week, with a sheep, goat, rabbit and chickens.

Animal assisted therapy activities consist of petting, grooming and walking the animal; singing animal songs, learning about the animal's history, species and breed; reading to the animal and/or training the animal; reminiscing about past human-animal interactions and relationships; and reflecting on the animal’s behaviours and story in relation to their own story.

The study is using Dementia Observation System (DOS) to track hourly behaviours and psychological symptoms of dementia, along with the Resident Assessment Instrument (RAI) secondary data to track PRN (when needed) medication use, resident-to-resident aggression and resident-to-staff aggression.


Given the vulnerable nature of this population, consent was obtained through two distinct processes, conducted by investigators on the research team. Informed consent from residents with legal capacity was obtained while informed consent from those without legal capacity was sought from their family/guardian, to ensure there was no coercion or duress, due to the resident’s impaired cognitive abilities to participate. Participation is voluntary and resident participants can withdraw at any time without any consequence to their care.

As with any protocol involving both humans and animals there are inherent risks. These risks are minimized through the participant screening process which assesses for animal allergies and
fears for particular animal species. Participants were be selected for their interest in animals which
reduces the risk for the participant to experience stress during the intervention. Interaction with
animals poses a risk of zoonoses. Zoonoses are diseases that can be transmitted to humans from
animals. To minimize this risk, all therapy animals are under veterinary care, are thoroughly
groomed, and are regularly vaccinated and dewormed. Hand hygiene policies are followed.

The therapy animals’ hand-rearing and socialization minimizes the risk of physical injury by the
animal. The therapy animals working in this study are a sheep, rabbit, goat and chickens. These
animals are considered safe and have previously worked with other residents living in long term
care homes with no previous incidents. 

To ensure the safety of the therapy animals, the International Association of Human-Animal
Interaction Organizations Animal Welfare Guidelines are followed for ethical human-animal
practices and to protect the animals’ well-being. When working with therapy animals, animal
welfare is critical since the animal is vulnerable and dependent on the therapist for their protection
and well-being. The use of the Boat Inventory on Animal-Related Experiences (BIARE) reduced
the risk of potential harm to the therapy animal.