LONG BRANCH, NJ, January 3, 2011 – Recently, a Wall Street Journal article chronicled research that proves a few minutes of stroking a pet dog decreases cortisol, the stress hormone, in both the human and the dog.
At Monmouth Medical Center, a research study has shown that for patients awaiting magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), interaction with a therapy dog proves soothing. An abstract of the study, conducted by Rumson-Fair Haven High School junior Allison Ruchman and involving visits with her 5-year-old beagle Wally to the hospital's MRI waiting room, has now been accepted for presentation at the annual meeting of a prestigious radiological association — the American Roentgen Ray Society.
"Reactions to therapy dogs are well documented, but we believe this is the first study of therapy dogs in an outpatient area," says Allison's father Richard Ruchman, M.D., the chairman of Radiology at Monmouth. "Radiology also is a unique area because we see patients of all ages, and with virtually every illness or injury."
Allison says she got the idea for the project when she herself had to undergo an MRI.
"I was so nervous waiting for the test, and thinking about Wally calmed me down," she says. "Then I talked to my Dad about bringing him to the hospital to help other patients waiting for an MRI."
For Allison and Wally, the first step was therapy dog certification. She spent a year in training and then was certified to practice dog therapy by The Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs Inc. in Morris Plains. Then last summer, she and Wally spent 100 hours visiting 53 patients of all ages awaiting MRI's at Monmouth.
"The goal of the program was to help patients avoid the need for Valium or other sedatives," Dr. Ruchman says. "Research clearly shows the calming effects of petting a dog, and at Monmouth, this was seen in all cases."
Monmouth offers MRI studies with a wide-open high-field MRI system — the most advanced alternative to open MRIs, which grew in popularity in recent years because of patient comfort, but he notes that in terms of clinical performance, compromise image quality. While the unit features a wide-open enclosure that is designed to reduce patient anxiety, it still is an anxious experience for many patients, he says. Patients undergo MRI's to pinpoint certain diseases and conditions, including stroke, brain and spinal tumors, bone and joint trauma, and gynecological tumors and diseases, and so they are usually very apprehensive while awaiting the procedure, according to Dr. Ruchman.
Allison says that during her visits with Wally, they would spend about 15 to 20 minutes with each patient, and that in all cases the patients reacted positively and told her that interacting with him helped calm their nerves. She notes that there was one patient, a physician, who said he thought he was relaxed awaiting the test but realized after petting Wally that he could feel his anxiety releasing.
"One elderly nursing home patient with dementia opened up to me about how she was a dog trainer in her youth, and she shared some stories about that with me," she says. "Her son told me that it was so remarkable because she really didn't speak anymore. He said that we gave him his mother back."
At Monmouth Medical Center, Wally is a part of the Pet Therapy Program, which was designed to enhance the healing process for patients. Monmouth Medical Center's team of certified volunteer handlers and therapy animals provide positive interactions that bring unconditional love from an animal to the patient, which contributes to the emotional and physical healing process.
To learn more about MRI services at Monmouth or the Pet Therapy Program, call Monmouth at 1-888-724-7123.
Rumson-Fair Haven High School junior Allison Ruchman and her 5-year-old beagle Wally spent 100 hours visiting the MRI waiting room at Monmouth Medical Center to help ease patients’ anxiety. An abstract of her experience has now been accepted for presentation at the annual meeting of a prestigious national radiological association.
January 3, 2011
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