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Dog eases feelings of loss in elderly
by Mary Helen
When Maggie makes her rounds in the Institute of Psychiatry, her gentle
presence brightens days darkened by loss and depression among patients
being treated in the Senior Care Unit.
patients in the Institute of Psychiatry as part of a senior care
therapy program. The golden retriever, rescued from a shelter, has been
rehab trained by Daana Potter (Doug Potter's wife).
Maggie does not talk, or bark, at the infirmed, most of whom suffer
from severe mood disorders. The 12-year-old golden retriever just lets
them pet her no matter how rough or timid. The plump pooch
doesn’t even mind if they confuse her for another pet from years ago.
“We have folks with dementia that when they see the dog, it evokes
pleasant memories and feelings they had,” said Michael Hartley, nurse
manager in the former Behavioral Intensive Care Unit.
Dr. Doug Potter
Maggie, of course, is a therapy dog; completely trained, vetted,
certified and cleared by the S.C. Department of Health and
Environmental Control (DHEC). She belongs to Doug Potter, Ph.D., a lead
therapeutic assistant in the 10-bed unit.
Maggie has been on duty in IOP for about three months. She works days
and nights, providing patients with tactile stimulation, which is
proven to help soothe or reduce symptoms of depression, high
blood pressure and stress.
“Depression and other mood disorders are germane among elders, and the
effect Maggie has on patients can be amazing,” Hartley said. “You can
see an immediate calming effect in patients who are depressed or
agitated. The stress reduction also has a cumulative effect.”
As studies have demonstrated that people with pets tend to be happier,
live longer, and suffer fewer illnesses, patients such as those in the
inpatient psychiatric unit also respond with similar improvements.
“The use of the therapy dog is not for treating the illness, but it is
treating a symptom of an illness,” Hartley explains.
Maggie is not the first therapy dog to be used in the unit, and she
likely will not be the only dog used by IOP therapists. Hartley said
plans call for the therapy dog to be assigned to 3 North, an adult
psychiatric unit. She also works in the new Seasons outpatient clinic
that treats ambulatory patients with depression or thought disorders.
For three years, Maggie has visited patients in area nursing homes,
Therapy dogs, meanwhile, play an important role in helping calm and
lift patient’s spirits in other areas of the hospital, notably the
Friday, April 25, 2008
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