Pets prompt communication for older people with aphasia

Screenshot 2023-07-31 135509
Currently, more than 140,000 Australians live with aphasia. [Source: UniSA]

Key points:

  • Partnering with Aphasia SA, researchers found that pets have a unique ability to improve communication among people with aphasia
  • While every person with aphasia presents differently, the condition often affects a person’s ability to speak, read, write, and understand others
  • There are many different causes of aphasia but the most common one is stroke. Aphasia can also be caused by brain tumours, traumatic brain injury, certain types of dementia and other conditions

Feathers, fins or fur, all pets can make us feel happier. Now, new research from the University of South Australia (UniSA) shows pet ownership and pet care can also support communication and well-being, especially for older people with acquired language difficulties such as aphasia.

Older people are at higher risk of developing aphasia as sensory issues begin to arise. Vision and hearing loss are prevalent in older adults which often results in poor communication and diminished psychosocial functioning. Communication breakdown results in decreased socialisation which also affects people’s physical and mental well-being. 

UniSA Student Researcher, Charlotte Mitchard, said pets offer older people with aphasia “friendship without expectations”.

“Aphasia can have a big impact on a person’s life affecting how they connect and interact with others, as well as how they participate in the community,” Ms Mitchard said.

Senior Researcher and Speech Pathologist Professor Maria Kambanaros said the study paves the way for more pet and health research in speech pathology. The team’s next research challenge has already been outlined – examining how pet ownership can help people who are caring for those with aphasia.

“Beyond that, we’re also exploring the impact of pet ownership on the well-being of people with different acquired neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease,” Prof Kambanaros explained.

“We know pets have a positive impact on our lives. By exploring how speech pathologists can support this in therapy, we can promote a far better quality of life.”

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