Human-animal bond as a facilitator of comfort for the older person: Contributions from Katherine Kolcaba’s Theory

Contributor – Ana Pinto de Azevedo

Nursing science has been defined in several ways based on theorists who consider the concept of relationship as fundamental to the perspective of human health. The human-animal bond is essential in health; life satisfaction is individualized and requires a holistic view. Nursing values relationships that are caring, natural, and therapeutic.

Active and healthy aging is defined as optimizing health, participation, and safety opportunities. Improve the quality of life as people age, as well as the process of developing and maintaining functional capacity, which contributes to the well-being of older people, with available capacity being the result of the interaction of a person’s intrinsic (physical and mental) capacities with the environment (World Health Organization, 2015).

Talking about the health of the elderly person is mainly talking about: their capacity for adaptation, the ability to manage changes in their life, overcoming problematic situations, crises, and disabilities while maintaining autonomy, based on a favorable evolution of their functional state to maintain or achieve the physical, psychospiritual, social, and environmental comfort they need to feel healthy (Sousa, 2014).

Throughout my professional experience, particularly in units of the National Network of Integrated Continuing Care, there have been several cases in which elderly person brought their pet during their visit. I observed a significant increase in the satisfaction/well-being and comfort of the older person and an improvement in functional rehabilitation. One of the patients was Mr. V.S., 66 years old, admitted to the health unit with the principal diagnosis of functional and motor rehabilitation after a stroke with memory loss. The multidisciplinary team decided to authorize Mr. V.S.’s wife to bring their dog, and the patient recognized the animal, which significantly improved his comfort level.

Comfort is an important, fundamental, and intimately linked concept to nursing practice, assuming it is a desired outcome for care provision (Pinto, Fumincelli, Mazzo, Caldeira, & Martins, 2017). People are increasingly aware of using pets to improve their physical and mental health and well-being. For example, people who travel by plane increasingly demand their pets’ presence, and several airlines already facilitate this. Florence Nightingale (1859) witnessed the therapeutic effects of animals on people, stating that a small pet is often an excellent companion for the sick, especially in chronic situations. Animals are often used as stress mediators. In a health unit, fish tanks were placed, producing a calming effect on people with Alzheimer’s disease and improving their eating patterns (Edwards & Beck, 2002). Pets can provide the older person with a sense of security, protection, social integration, a sense of caring, and a sense of comfort. The state of comfort is more than just the relief of discomfort. It is a positive phenomenon, an immediate and multidimensional condition (Sousa, 2014).

It is the nurse’s responsibility to be aware of the attachment issue related to the human-animal bond and to facilitate, whenever possible, the older person’s interaction with their pet. The nurse is committed to paying attention to the person as a unique entity embedded in a family and a community and contributing to creating an environment conducive to developing the person’s potential. Humanization thus involves the interpersonal relationship as much as a caring and development-enhancing environment (Nursing Code of Ethics, Article 89).

When thinking about the human-animal bond as a facilitator of the older person’s comfort, there is a need to address Katharine Kolcaba’s comfort theory as a theoretical framework. This nursing theory directly applies to individual and holistic dimensions. It used physical, psychospiritual, sociocultural, and environmental concepts. In addition to internal and external factors, it is essential to focus on comforting strategies. In this case, the nurse’s interventions can contribute to respecting the human-animal bond as a comfort enhancer for the older person. Kolcaba helps to clarify Nursing diagnoses identified in NANDA, such as “discomfort” and “frailty syndrome in the elderly,” and it is essential to adopt interventions that promote comfort.

According to NANDA, Frailty Syndrome in the Elderly is a dynamic state of unstable equilibrium that affects the elderly who experience deterioration in one or more health domains (physical, functional, psychological, or social) and leads to an increased susceptibility to adverse health effects, particularly disability.

The power of the therapeutic relationship between the nurse and the patient impacts the scope of recovery, healing, and health promotion. Nurses establish a therapeutic relationship and a conducive climate for recovery, healing, and health promotion.


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Pinto, S., Fumincelli, L. Mazzo, A., Caldeira, S. & Martins, J. (2017). Comfort, well-being and quality of life: Discussion of the differences and similarities among the concepts. Porto Biomedical Journal, 2(1), 6-12. DOI: 10. 1016/j.pbj.2016.11.003

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About Ana Pinto de Azevedo

I am a nurse since 2010 and my experience has been in the area of medical and surgery care for eight years. Since 2018 I have been work in the context of ERPI (Residential structure for the elderly) and UCCI (Integrated Continuous Care Unit). This post was made in the curricular unit of nursing theories of the Master Course in Nursing of the Institute of Health Sciences of the Portuguese Catholic University (Lisbon), with the pedagogical supervision of Professor Zaida Charepe (PhD, Associate Professor).

2 thoughts on “Human-animal bond as a facilitator of comfort for the older person: Contributions from Katherine Kolcaba’s Theory

  1. Very interesting post… I have been seeing quite a bit lately on using pets in oncology care. This used to be very taboo but maybe things are shifting.

  2. Hi Ana. A very interesting, innovative and pertinent post. This can be an important tool in the nursing care of our elderly. Thanks for your sharing.

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