The role of the service dog has expanded immensely over the last few decades. Years ago, service dogs were used only to assist the blind. But these days, dogs have been trained to help with everything from hearing to mobility. And now, service dogs can add dementia-assistance to their resume, as several dogs in Scotland have recently been trained to help patients with the disease - with astonishing results.
How can a dog help a person diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia? 'Dementia dogs' can be trained to remind their owners where their clothes are, which medicines they should take, and even raise an alarm in case of an emergency.
“Dogs love routine. They love that predictability,” said Helen McCain of Dogs for the Disabled in an interview with BBC News. “By using that hook, we can then teach the dog to actually sort of remind people by the sound of an alarm to go and get the medication at the allotted time of the day.”
The idea to train dogs to help patients with dementia was the brainchild of students at Scotland's Glasgow School of Art. Working together with Alzheimer Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled, and Guide Dogs Scotland, they developed a plan to train two dogs for 18 months to assist patients with dementia. And so far, the results have far exceeded expectations.
The two dogs, Oscar, a golden retriever, and Kaspa, a Labrador, have now been working with their new owners in Scotland for the last 4 months. Kaspa works with 70 year old Ken Will, who was diagnosed with dementia about 3 years ago. “Kaspa has totally given us our lives back,” Will’s wife, Glenys told The Herald. “Ken is much happier because he’s got the dog and we can go out now ... We can even go on holidays."
Oscar's owner, Maureen Benham, has experienced similar results.
"Before we had the dog, I did get frustrated," her husband, Frank, told BBC News. "But the dog acts as a buffer between you. If it works out and eventually, down the line, it will be a normal thing for people with Alzheimer's or dementia to have a dog. I think it will be a fantastic achievement."
Want to learn more about how service dogs are helping their owners? Check out these links: