Therapy Dogs for Dementia? How Dogs Can Improve the Lives of Those With Dementia

Dogs have been man’s best friend for many years. They bring joy, companionship, love and support into the lives of their owners.

So it will come as no surprise to dog lovers that dogs offer tremendous therapeutic value. And, because of this, service dogs have been used in assisted living facilities for many years. In this setting, they’ve proven effective in providing comfort and support for patients in physical discomfort and/or are under emotional distress.

Recent studies show that dogs can also be a great help for those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

You see, Alzheimer’s patients can struggle with even the simplest tasks. In fact, that’s a big reason why relatives hire care assistants to help them.

However, a well-trained service dog may eliminate the need for care assistance. Therapy dogs for dementia can be trained to empower the patient, foster greater independence and provide companionship.

How Can Therapy Dogs for Dementia Help?

Here are some of the specific ways that dementia service dogs can help those with Alzheimer’s or dementia…

Getting the Patient Home

One big problem that affects the safety of someone with dementia is wandering (where they walk off and can’t find their way back). So one of the most important things a dementia service dogs assist with is to get his/her owner home when the command is given.

The dogs are trained to stay with their owner and telephone or bark for help in situations where the patient fails to return home. These dogs may also be fitted with a GPS navigation tracker to help relatives trace and locate the dog and owner if needed.

The dog may also be trained to prevent the patient from leaving home unaccompanied. This training comes in handy for someone who lives alone or lives with a spouse who is rarely at home.

Help with Daily Tasks

As the disease progresses, so does the struggles with simple daily tasks. Service dogs can help here too! Trained to help their owners with tasks like waking up and finding their clothing, service dogs are a blessing. They might even bring owners their medication.

If the owner has balance problems, the dog can help with that too! They do this by helping their owner get up and sit down as well as go up and go down the stairs.

Emotional Well-being

But these dogs don’t just help people with dementia physically. They provide great comfort emotionally as well. This can have a huge effect on their owner’s emotional well-being.

There are few ways these dogs can improve their owner’s mental condition:

First the dog gives them greater independence. This gives a dementia sufferer a greater feeling of self-reliance since they no longer need to rely on a third party for help. This gives them confidence and enhances their moods.

Over the long term, this can help ward off some of the negative impacts of Alzheimer’s and dementia such as nervousness and depression.

Having a guide dog will also give the owner more opportunities to be social. Part of this is due to the nurturing relationship between dog and owner. And part of this is due to the owner just being outside more with his/her dog and meeting new people.

Dogs also give unconditional love to their owners. And that can improve anyone’s emotional well-being!

Which type of dogs can be chosen for this role?

It’s clear that guide dogs can be great companions and therapists. They give support and love to anyone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

But not any dog can be a service dog. To be one, there are certain key qualities to look for.

Therapy dogs are largely selected on the basis of their personality. The dog should be able to follow basic commands. These would include sit, stay, heel, etc. Having a dog that doesn’t nip, bite or jump on people is also important.

Another important quality is that the dog can handle owners who experience frequent mood swings.

In addition, the dog must prove it can respond and attend to the patient in times of need. Their reaction to distraction, temperament, behavior on the leash and how they handle children are all critical.

Clearly a specially trained service dog can offer some truly great benefits to someone suffering from dementia. As you investigate options on how to best care for your loved one with dementia, service dogs are worth looking into.

And, as you look for possible memory care facilities, ask if they have any sort of program where they bring service dogs in to work with the residents.

These therapy dogs for dementia can make a huge positive impact on the lives of those with dementia.