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European Union of Private Hospitals

Sana Klinikum Hof – Give the day more joy of life Animal assisted therapy in palliative medicine

JANUARY 2020. Actually, Anna-Maria Grimm, patient of the palliative ward at the Sana Klinikum Hof, thought that she didn’t have much time left. She was admitted to the clinic with an unclear abdominal swelling and two tumors were diagnosed. “My stomach hurt a lot, I just wanted to fall asleep.” She didn’t want to be examined any more and actually didn’t want to talk much. “It is often difficult to find access to patients who are in a hopeless situation. A great deal of sensitivity is required here – especially when you know that an examination and appropriate treatments can improve the patients’ quality of life,” says Dr. Silke Pietsch, Head of the Palliative Ward Section. Together with therapist Birgit Cronenberg, she approached the patient in a new way.

The 80-year-old was lying in her patient room when the door opened, Birgit Cronenberg came in and put a white blanket in one corner of the room. I thought: What’s the matter – is she bringing a baby with her today? says the elderly lady. But no, far from it. “Suddenly, Frieda padded into the room on velvety-soft big paws. She came to my bed, looked at me from her warm dark brown eyes – and already it had happened to me.” Anna-Maria Grimm, who was otherwise afraid of dogs, could hardly believe it. With shining eyes and a blissful smile on her face she says: “It was love at first sight, like with my husband 52 years ago in the ballroom.”

Frieda, the two-year-old Goldendoodle dog lady, has been coming to the palliative care unit every Tuesday since the end of last year. She looks like a cuddly white cloud sheep, lying well-behaved on her blanket. She doesn’t make contact until Birgit Cronenberg allows her to. Animal-assisted therapy is a complementary treatment method that focuses on the psychological effect. It essentially aims at the quality of life of people with severely restrictive and distressing symptoms. In general, it aims to improve well-being, reduce pain and anxiety and promote communication. “Animal-assisted therapy offers patients the opportunity to experience appreciation and self-efficacy within a protected framework,” reports Birgit Cronenberg. The trained psychologist appreciates the dog’s presence – it creates a relaxed and soothing atmosphere. “One gets into conversation about the dog, uncovers resources and can activate them. It serves, so to speak, as a mediating medium between the patient and the psychologist – the relatives can also be more easily integrated into the course of the illness.”

As far as hygiene is concerned, there is nothing to worry about – Frieda is vaccinated and is only allowed to enter the palliative ward via the terrace. The animal-supported therapy in the palliative medical context stands under the central idea of the hospice idea: “It is not a question of giving to the life more days, but of giving to the days more life.” (Cicely Saunders).

Section head Dr. Pietsch is very grateful for the new therapy offer that benefits her patients. “We see our palliative ward as a place to live. We treat patients with incurable, life-threatening diseases that have a severe burden of symptoms. In our holistic work it is important to us to alleviate complaints and problems and to improve the quality of life.” This also includes supporting people in dealing with the changed life situation. “Our goal is to allow our patients to return to their home environment whenever possible. However, the ward is also a place where dying is permitted when the time has come.”

In the case of Anna-Maria Grimm, the encounter with Frida allowed access to the patient. After a thorough examination, it was established that surgery not only improved her quality of life, but also extended her life expectancy from a few months to several years. Anna-Maria Grimm is overjoyed about her encounter with Frida. “It took me only 80 years to experience something like that.” Today she is very happy to have accepted the advice of the doctors for an operation.

About the Sana Klinikum Hof

The Sana Klinikum Hof, with its 465 inpatient beds and 22 day-care places, is one of the largest somatic acute care hospitals in Bavaria. In more than fifteen specialized departments the private hospital treats annually approximately 24,000 stationary and 45,000 ambulatory patients.

Picture from left. Birgit Cronenberg, Dr. Silke Pietsch, Anna Grimm und therapy-dog Frieda