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There is promising evidence that animal-assisted therapies can alleviate loneliness

Gilbey A, Tani K.  Companion animals and loneliness: A systematic review of quantitative studies  Anthrozoös. 2015;28(2): 181-197.

Review question

      Can animal-assisted therapy or companion animals alleviate loneliness?

Background

      Companion animals are generally believed to be able to alleviate human loneliness, although studies have not yet reached a clear consensus.

      Loneliness has been found to have the potential to increase mortality at a rate similar to smoking or obesity.

      This review aims to investigate the effect of animal-assisted therapy and companion animals on loneliness.

How the review was done

      A detailed search of a number of electronic databases was conducted in 2014 to identify relevant studies. Studies that focused on animals and human loneliness were included in the review.

      A total of 290 studies were identified in searches, and 21 were included in the systematic review after assessing their eligibility.

      The authors did not acknowledge any sources of funding for this review.

What the researchers found

      The review found a lack of rigorous studies examining the effect of companion animals on loneliness.

      There is promising evidence that animal-assisted therapy can alleviate loneliness. However, this effect may be due to aspects of the therapy, rather than the animal.

      It is important to note there are multiple factors influencing loneliness. Some of these include the level of education, the level of income and the functional status. These factors can all affect the ability to own a companion animal.

Conclusion

      None of the studies demonstrated conclusive evidence that companion animals can alleviate loneliness, which stresses the need for more rigorous studies.

      While it is difficult to determine whether effects are due to the animal or another aspect of the therapy, it was concluded that animal-assisted therapy appears promise to alleviate loneliness.




Glossary

Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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