May 2, 2011

Want Less Anxiety During Your MRI? Try a Dog!

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Many people who have to undergo an MRI suffer from high anxiety, which can cause unwanted motion and lead to poor image quality. Now, researchers say animal-assisted therapy may be a good, non-invasive way to lower anxiety levels in these patients.

Investigators from Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, NJ, selected 28 patients who were scheduled to undergo an outpatient MRI to interact with a certified therapy dog. The patients interacted with the dog at various levels of intensity for periods of 15 minutes, about 30 minutes prior to their scheduled MRI. Six patients did not receive the animal therapy. The results showed those who spent time with the dog had lower levels of anxiety.

"The most significant aspect of our findings was the fact that time spent with a dog (animal-assisted therapy) could substitute for pharmacologic anxiolysis (anti-anxiety medication) often needed to assist patients having an MRI," Richard Ruchman, M.D., one of the authors of the study, was quoted as saying.

The research was conceived by a 15-year-old student who experienced anxiety and claustrophobia during the course of her MRI. She relieved her tension by creating a mental picture of her dog and believed other patients could do the same. She soon became a certified dog therapist and conducted the research on this project, assisting doctors who compiled and analyzed data.

"A great deal of research is currently being conducted on animal-assisted therapy in the medical environment. To my knowledge, this is the first study that has particularly addressed animal-assisted therapy in the radiology department, and I believe that many applications of this could flow from our findings. Current estimates are that 15% or more of patients cannot proceed with an MRI due to anxiety and a non-pharmacologic solution is noteworthy," Dr. Ruchman said.

SOURCE: The 2011 American Roentgen Ray Society's annual meeting, April 30, 2011