AJN On the Cover
On our cover this month is a photo of 13-year-old Brianna Incorvaia, a patient at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, with trained therapy dog Lille curled up in her lap. Brianna had been admitted to the hospital five days earlier after experiencing immobility in her neck and back. Days of testing and confinement to bed had left the normally athletic and outgoing teen depressed and worried. That is, until Shetland sheepdog Lille arrived to put a smile on her face.
The experience of being hospitalized can be stressful for patients of all ages. Studies have shown that animal visitation can reduce this stress and anxiety, raising patients’ mood and morale. Visits by therapy animals can even lower cardiopulmonary pressures and neurohormone levels in adult patients and decrease pain perception in postoperative pediatric patients.
Beyond arranging for visits by trained therapy animals, some hospitals are beginning to implement programs to allow patients to be visited by their own pets. Some patients consider their pets to be important members of their family, and this bond can enhance the benefits gained from visitation, reducing depression and feelings of loneliness and isolation. Hospitalized patients whose family pets visit them report that “a part of home was brought to me,” as well as relief that their pets are getting the chance to see them (“It… made me feel good to know the dog knows I'm still here”). For more on the benefits to patients of pet visits and how one hospital implemented a family pet visitation program, see this month's special feature, “Family Pet Visitation.”—Michael Fergenson, senior editorial coordinator