Dementia Assistance Dogs
Assistance dogs carry out a wide range of help to people with disabilities and illnesses from seeing eye dogs, to aiding people who suffer from post traumatic stress – Holidays4Dogs focuses this time on dogs that help people with dementia; a valuable service which is relatively new to the UK.
How do dogs help people with dementia?
Dogs living in homes of people with dementia can help to maintain routines, encourage activity and assist people to engage with their families and communities. As well as this, dogs can provide constant companionship and provide familiar reassurance for sufferers when they face new situations. Research has shown that having a dog can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and agitation amongst those suffering from dementia, or Alzheimer’s.
Routine is one of the things that can become difficult for those in the early to mid stages of dementia, so one of the key elements of a trained assistance dog is to provide reminders by responding to timed alarms; this may include retrieving medication, for example.
Research has shown that dogs can act as a catalyst for social interaction and this is especially helpful for those suffering from dementia. People with dementia may be less confident at talking to other people, because of their lack of memory. A dog provides a focus point which helps people maintain existing friendships, as well as helping to make new ones.
Dogs can have a positive effect on reducing feelings of anxiety for people with dementia; having a dog as a companion can help people feel safer in their own homes, as well as when they are out and about. Fully qualified assistance dogs are permitted in shops, hospitals and on public transport.
Dementia Dogs UK.
A pilot project set up a few years ago by Dementia Dogs UK, has helped to clarify that dogs can bring a wide range of benefits to adults living with dementia.
Dementia Dogs started out as collaboration between Alzheimer Scotland, The Glasgow School of Art and Design, Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs UK. Alzheimer Scotland commissioned the Glasgow School of Art with a service design project and this very soon caught the attention of the Scottish Executive and Design Council, which supplied funding to promote the realization of service dogs for people suffering with dementia.
Following a research programme, and after further successful funding applications, Dementia Dog began their first pilot scheme based at the Guide Dogs training centre in Forfar, Scotland.
Three, out of four dogs originally selected for training, were successfully placed with families as fully trained and qualified dementia assistance dogs. The project continues to track the progress of these three dogs.
In 2016, further substantial funding was secured from the Life Changes Trust meaning that Dementia Dogs has been able to expand their training programme with a further eight dogs.
The people who work on the Dementia Dog project are passionate about their work and are able to see first hand just what a positive effect the dogs have on people with dementia. As well as training dogs to become dementia assistance dogs, they run Dog Day events for people and families living with dementia who are no longer able to have a dog in their lives. There are plenty of dogs that visit the centre on a regular basis, with lots of guest appearances such as Heather Smith, the winner of Crufts heelwork to music.
Dementia dogs provide valuable support for people with dementia who often feel alone and vulnerable. Their service dogs provide support for everyday living including building confidence and being an important bridge for social interaction. The bond people have with dogs is quite something, but dogs living with people who have dementia seem to have an amazing ability to connect very deeply with their companions.