Dogs are a Best Friend for Those with Dementia

Don’t confuse these highly trained dogs with emotional support pets. You can find those on flights as well. People with disabilities, including persons with aging issues, can use a service animal to help them in daily life. These dogs are trained to perform many tasks. These include providing stability for a person with an unstable gait, picking up items for a person who uses a wheelchair, even alerting an individual who has hearing loss when someone is approaching from behind.

With training, these service dogs can provide help for the person suffering from dementia and peace of mind to the family and the caregivers of the individual.

People with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia find it difficult to deal with everyday life. Their cognitive decline can even put them in danger. As dementia gets worse, as it usually does over time, the ability to do the normal activities of daily living, without supervision, becomes limited or impossible.  Generally, caregivers at home or placement in memory care in an assisted living facility or nursing home become the ideal situation for the individual. A service dog can often provide comfort and assistance when a person is living at home or, on occasion when allowed, even in assisted living. 

researchers have thought pets are good for all of us, but even more so with older people or those suffering from health issues. Studies have shown the health benefits like lower blood pressure and heart rate and reduction of stress hormones. Research even shows that pets can boost levels of the feel-good hormone, serotonin.

Many experts are now talking about using service dogs, who are highly trained to start with, to be part of the caregiving team for those with various forms of dementia. In fact, some facilities are hiring pet coordinators to aid in the care of residents’ pets.

“It has been well-established that pets have a therapeutic and often calming impact on people in general,” said Dr. Thomas Schweinberg, staff neuropsychologist for the Lindner Center of HOPE in Mason, Ohio.

Rottweilers are extremely intelligent and can be trained easily,” he says.

dogs are now being trained specifically for help with those with cognitive decline. The first is in Israel and was the brainchild of Dafna Golan-Shemesh, a social worker with expertise in caring for Alzheimer’s patients, and her partner Yariv Ben-Yosef, a professional dog trainer.

A similar project was initiated by students at Scotland’s Glasgow School of Art’s Product Design Department and then further developed by a partnership between Alzheimer Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled, and Guide Dogs Scotland.