How Dementia Assistance Dogs Support People Living With Dementia

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© Danielle Robertson Consulting Pty Ltd t/as DR Care Solutions

A month ago we met " Mr Velvet Ears", a Dementia Assistance Dog and his companion, Edie Mayhew, in my blog introducing the documentary chronicling Edie's dementia journey.

The story brings me to explore the origins of Dementia Assistance Dogs and how pets like this golden Labrador are so beneficial as a complimentary treatment for dementia.

Dementia Assistance Dogs in Australia came about through an initiative called the Dementia Dog Project trialled in Scotland from 2012 to 2015. The project, a collaboration between Alzheimer's Scotland and Dogs for Good (UK), actually originated from a Glasgow School of Arts class project!

Through a partnership with the Scottish project team a similar pilot, Dogs 4 Dementia, was then run in Australia from 2015 to 2017. This pilot was collaboration between the HammondCare Dementia Centre and Assistance Dogs Australia, with grant funding of $1.5m from the Australian Department for Social Services.

The preliminary results of both pilots are astounding.

In brief, the initiative involves professional training of the dogs for up to two years and then matching the dog to the couple in need. The couple must comprise of a person with dementia and a carer. Once the dog is matched, the dog receives more advanced training, from a professional dog trainer, to meet the specific needs of the couple. The Scottish pilot matched four dogs to four couples and the Australian, 10 dogs to 10 couples.

Here's the astounding part. The dogs can be trained to do any of the following:

  • Respond to pre-set alarms to retrieve medication pouches or water bottles and place them in a person's lap to remind them to take their medication or hydrate.
  • Help regulate sleeping patterns by nudging a person to wake up in the morning and start their day.
  • Help dress or undress a person, such as help pull off socks.
  • Walk with the person to the bathroom and wait outside the shower to ensure the person safely enters and exits the shower.
  • Find and open doors, and open drawers.
  • Roll out a yoga mat to remind the person to do their physio exercises.
  • Retrieve the house keys, walking shoes and lead to remind the person that it is time to take a walk.
  • Remain calm, friendly and patient on outings and play the role of a natural social icebreaker to prompt conversations with others in the local community.
  • To "head rest", where the dog rests its head in a person's lap and makes eye contact to help ground the person and make them feel calmer.
  • And the list goes on!

Preliminary results of both projects were released in January 2019 and they are promising. Both projects reported:

  • Increased physical activity levels for the person with dementia and their carer.
  • Greater independence and improved quality of life for both, with increased confidence on the part of: the person living with dementia to socialise outside the home, and the carer to spend independent time away from the home.
  • The emotional support provided by the dog's unconditional companionship and affection.
  • Reduced carer stress due to the carer feeling more confident that the person living with dementia was safe in the company of the dog.
  • The person living with dementia felt safer.
  • The person living with dementia became more sociable and received more social contact when out and about.
  • The benefits of having a dementia dog did not diminish as the person's dementia progressed.

Take a look at this Dogs 4 Dementia story of how Skip, the black Labrador, has helped Richard and Jennifer.

The final evaluation of the Dogs 4 Dementia pilot is due to be released by the HammondCare Dementia Centre this year.

If you require support in decision making around the care of your loved one with dementia, please feel free to contact me, Danielle Robertson at DR Care Solutions, for an initial discussion.

DR Care Solutions offers expertise on how to set up the right care, support and assistance for your loved one, at the right time and in the right place.

- Contact Danielle - For An Impartial & Confidential Conversation


Danielle Robertson

Danielle Robertson

Working with you and your support network to get the right care outcomes for you and your loved ones. Danielle Robertson is founder and CEO of DR Care Solutions, offering aged care and disability care concierge services and expertise on how to set up the right care, support and assistance for your loved one, at the right time and in the right place. Danielle's experience in the Australian care sector spans over three and a half decades. Now that's a lot of experience, wisdom and networks!