The Study of Human-Animal Interactions The CAIRC Scholarship Program Summary of the Past Researches
Summary of the Past Scholarship Research
From "Letter from CAIRC" July 2004
Research Theme:" The Effects of Companion Animals that Ease Grief of the Bereaved Elderly "
Yuko Tanaka
Instructor of Gerontological Nursing, Aichi Prefectural College of Nursing & Health
The death of a spouse is a common experience among the elderly. The accompanying bereavement is known as a cause of negative feelings such as depression, a sense of despair, and loneliness. As indicated in the title of her report, Tanaka undertook research to determine whether the effects of such bereavement are alleviated through positive feelings resulting from contact with companion animals.

“We administered a questionnaire to subjects aged 65 to 74, and received 760 valid responses,” she explained. “In determining the effects of bereavement on affirmative feelings experienced in everyday life, we found that levels of several criteria had been suppressed, namely, a sense of usefulness, self-esteem and enthusiasm, in order of seriousness. Four criteria showed particularly serious decreases in subjects who had lost a spouse three years or less previously. These were, from the greatest decline to the least: a sense of usefulness, a sense of being loved, a sense of making a contribution, and a sense of purposefulness in life.

“Next, we looked into the affirmative feelings that companion animals impart to the elderly in everyday life. No statistically significant difference emerged from a simple division of subjects into pet owners and those without pets, which demonstrated the importance of another factor: the degree of importance the subject places on the relationship with the companion animal. Among subjects with qualitatively strong relationships with their pets, there was a marked effect on six criteria. These were, from the greatest improvement to the least: a sense of being loved, a sense of being protected, enthusiasm, self-esteem, a sense of usefulness, and a sense of purposefulness in life.

“We studied four facets of the subjects’ relationships with their companion animals: responsibility for care and feeding, time spent in the same room with the pet, emotional attachment to the pet, and the degree of difference between the positive and stressful experiences of living with a pet. We discovered that time spent in the same room with the pet correlated particularly highly with increases in positive feelings among the elderly.

“Studies of gerontological nursing care have shown that for the elderly, an enthusiasm for life and sense of purpose, as well as the sense of protecting something precious and exchanging feelings of affection, are all crucial in maintaining self esteem on top of a sense of usefulness and self-worth. That is to say, our results indicate that time spent in a room with a companion animal is more important than any of the other factors studied in maintaining self-esteem among the elderly.

“There has been a trend in recent years toward promoting animal-assisted activities at facilities such as those for the elderly. But it is hard to say that the best results can be obtained from sporadic visits or special events,” she concluded. “Creating an environment conducive to the raising of pets at elder care facilities, just as families do at home, is a crucial element in bringing about more positive feelings among the elderly on a daily basis.”