AAI studies in the nursing home pose a specific set of challenges. In this article the practical and ethical issues encountered during a Dutch psychogeriatric nursing home AAI study are addressed with the aim of sharing our experiences for future researchers as well as AAI practitioners in general.

In our study we compared three groups of clients with dementia who participated in group sessions of either visiting dog teams, visiting FurReal Friend robot animals, or visiting students (control group) and monitored the effect on social interaction and neuropsychiatric symptoms through video analysis and questionnaires. We encountered the following four categories of challenges during our study.

Participant-related challenges include the legal implications of working with vulnerable patients, the practical implications of a progressive neurodegenerative disease with accompanying memory loss and behavioral problems, and the ethical implications of the use of robot animals for people with diminished cognitive functions.

A very important challenge involves the selection of the participating dogs and ensuring animal welfare during the study. We partnered with a local university of applied sciences to help us successfully address these issues.

The nursing home setting poses several practical challenges due to its inherent organizational structure, the high workload of nursing home staff, and an often suboptimal environment for a controlled randomized trial, especially when comparing nonpharmacological interventions. Balancing the desire for scientifically sound procedures with the practical limitations of a nursing home setting is often difficult and requires specific considerations.