By Dr. Becker
Recently, Oscar the Golden Retriever and Kaspa the yellow Labrador began their careers as “dementia dogs” in Scotland, assisting owners who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
The pair received training to learn to respond to alarms, retrieve medicine containers, nudge their owners to go read a reminder, and encourage them to get out of bed in the morning.
Dementia Dogs the Brainchild of Glasgow School of Art Students
It was actually students at the Glasgow School of Art who came up with the idea of assistance dogs for dementia patients. The group was asked to develop products that would help people with dementia, and they began to wonder if dogs could be trained to assist dementia patients just as they were trained to help the blind.
Student Luke McKinney says, “We presented the idea to Alzheimer Scotland and also some service users, and the feedback we got was instantly huge.”
The students partnered with Alzheimer Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled, and Guide Dogs Scotland to put Oscar and Kaspa through 18 months of training.
The goal of the program, according to DementiaDog.org:
"The Dementia Dog Project builds services for people with dementia that brings dogs back into their lives or supports them to continue their relationship with dogs.
It aims to prove that dogs can help people with dementia maintain their waking, sleeping and eating routine, remind them to take medication, improve confidence, keep them active and engaged with their local community, as well as providing a constant companion who will reassure when facing new and unfamiliar situations."
After their training, Oscar and Kaspa joined their new teams. A team includes the dementia or Alzheimer’s patient, a full-time caregiver, and a trained dementia assistance dog.
Kaspa now lives with Ken Will, who has dementia, and his wife Glenys. Glenys says, “Kaspa has given us our life back. He greets Ken in the morning, so starts Ken’s day being happy.”
When Ken gets agitated or seems unsettled, Kaspa nudges him to distract him. Ken then either talks to the dog for a bit, or goes out into the back garden and forgets what was bothering him.
According to Glenys, “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.”
When they go shopping, Kaspa sits with Ken and Glenys doesn’t have to worry about him. When she goes to work, she leaves reminders for Ken next to an alarm. When the alarm goes off, Kaspa nudges Ken until he gets up and reads his reminders.
“Who would believe a dog came into our lives two weeks ago and turned our lives around,” Glenys remarked. “Every day we wake up knowing it’s going to be a good day thanks to Kaspa.”
Oscar was placed with Maureen Benham and her husband Frank, who is her caregiver.
Frank says he’s noticed a big difference in Maureen since Oscar arrived. She had lost confidence in herself when she began having trouble holding conversations with other people, but according to Frank, now they are out and about every day. Seems Oscar is an excellent conversation starter!
"Before we had the dog, I did get frustrated," said Frank, "but the dog acts as a buffer between you.”
Oscar and Kaspa have proved such a success that two more dogs are already undergoing training. The charities involved believe dementia dogs could be a significant new way of helping people with early-stage dementia.