Dogs are known as man’s best friend and are the perfect non-judgemental companion.
Many may think that keeping a dog is no longer an option after a dementia diagnosis.
However, the Dementia Dog projects tells us about the work that they do and they highlight the benefits a trained assistance dog can have for those living with dementia…
Dementia Dog’s story
Dementia Dog started its life as a Glasgow School of Art service design project commissioned by Alzheimer Scotland that secured the attention and funding of both the Scottish Executive and the Design Council through the Living Well with Dementia Challenge.
The concept grew to a formal collaboration between Alzheimer Scotland, The Glasgow School of Art, Dogs for Good and Guide Dogs UK, bringing together expertise in dementia care and the provision of trained assistance dogs.
The Dementia Dog project trains dogs to provide highly specialised services for people living with dementia in a range of environments.
In the family home environment, the project aims to prove that dogs can help people with dementia…
• Maintain their waking, sleeping and eating routine
• Remind them to take medication
• Improve their confidence
• Keep them active and engaged with their local community
And, most importantly, providing a constant companion who will give reassurance when facing new and unfamiliar situations for both the person with dementia and their carer.
The Benefits of having a trained assistance dog:
Routine & Reminders
Routine can become difficult for those with dementia. Dogs are creatures of habit and can be trained to support daily routine, responding to timed alarms to remind owners to do their essential daily tasks.
Dementia can be a very lonely and frightening experience. Dogs are loyal, unjudging companions providing 24/7 comfort and reassurance.
For someone with dementia, dogs can act as a physical anchor: allowing a carer to focus elsewhere, and an emotional anchor: helping them feel safe when they’re alone.
The role of the carer is often lonely and stressful, dogs can provide joy and companionship to the whole family.
Dogs can act as a bridge to local communities – encouraging conversation and friendship that does not rely on memory. Focusing on the dog can help friends old and new start and maintain relationships with someone with dementia.
Out & About
Dementia can lead to isolation through lack of confidence in leaving the house. Walking with a dog provides a companion who can reassure them and a means of exercise that feels safe.
Dogs have a marked effect in elderly care, they are therapeutic and can be a catalyst for conversation and memories. This is a future opportunity for the project.
Lack of confidence can become a problem for many as they become ‘cared for’. Dogs need care, this responsibility can offer a strong sense of purpose and boost self-esteem, allowing the person with dementia to feel independent for longer.
Dementia Dog in action
Following the successful completion of the research stage and having secured additional funding, in April 2013 Dementia Dog embarked on its first small-scale pilot scheme placing trained assistance dogs with four families based in Forfar, Angus.
One of the families, Ken and Glenys, were successfully paired with golden Labrador Kaspa during the pilot. Glenys said:
“Kaspa has given us our life back. He greets Ken in the morning, so starts Ken’s day being happy. I have noticed if Ken is agitated or unsettled Kaspa gives him a nudge so Ken talks to the dog or goes out in to the back garden and forgets what had bothered him.
Kaspa has removed my fear that Ken had gone, life is so much better for both of us now. Ken is happy and it has taken so much stress away from me as well. Who would believe a dog came into our lives two weeks ago and turned our lives around. Every day we wake up knowing it’s going to be a good day thanks to Kaspa.”
Since the Assistance dog pilot families qualified, the project partners have been busy exploring other models of delivering dog support to families who cannot have a dog full-time. This work continues and will provide ways to allow the assistance dogs to continue delivering support and joy as their family circumstances change.
The results were very positive and this led to a substantial funding award from Life Changes Trust in August 2016. This will allow us to expand the assistance dog programme to families in other parts of Scotland with a further eight dogs.
Please comment below to share your personal stories about how dogs have helped those living with dementia in your life…