HABRI Funds Study of Equine-Assisted Therapy for Older Parkinson’s Patients

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by Diana Campelo Delgado |

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equine-assisted therapy (EAT)

Researchers from the Texas Woman’s University will investigate the benefits of equine-assisted therapy, known as EAT, in elder adults with Parkinson’s disease, with the help of a research grant from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI).

A non-profit organization, HABRI hopes to advance — through science, education, and advocacy — the vital role of the human-animal bond in the health and well-being of individuals, families, communities, and companion animals.

“HABRI is proud to fund this important research into the benefits of EAT for individuals living with Parkinson’s,” Steven Feldman, executive director of HABRI, said in a press release.

The study is titled “How does 8 weeks of equine-assisted therapy affect older adults diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease?” and will be led by a research group from the University School of Health Promotion and Kinesiology. The amount and length of funding given to this research project was not disclosed.

“While research studies examining the physiological benefits of horseback riding have been conducted before, there is a lack of published research regarding the physical adaptations of EAT in adults with PD [Parkinson’s disease],” said B. Rhett Rigby, PhD, the study’s principal investigator.

“We hope that the results of this study will further the efficacy of EAT as a novel treatment modality for this population, and lead to a more widespread acceptance by healthcare practitioners,” Rigby said.

The project will compare the severity of bradykinesia — characterized by slowness or difficulty of movement — and functional outcomes such as posture, balance, and gait, before and after EAT. Researchers also will seek to characterize the resulting human-animal interaction during therapy.

“By promoting interaction and engagement with horses, this study has the potential to positively impact an understudied population while fostering human-animal bonds and improving physical and occupational therapy practices,” Feldman said.

A total of 30 men with Parkinson’s, ages 40 to 80, will be randomly assigned to undergo either eight weeks of EAT, comprised of 17 sessions overseen and conducted by a physical therapist, or a similar protocol on a horseback riding simulator.

Preliminary results from two pilot studies indicate these types of therapy can improve posture sway and balance in older adults with balance deficits.

Researchers expect that, in comparison with the simulator riding group, those given EAT sessions will see a greater decrease in bradykinesia severity while improving their skeletal muscle strength at the core and pelvis.

“With a greater understanding of the physical effects of equine-assisted therapy for these individuals and greater acceptance by healthcare practitioners, we hope to also see an increase in demand for EAT that will ultimately result in EAT becoming more affordable and accessible,” Rigby said.

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