Therapy animals have long been used to assist blind, disabled or otherwise ailing individuals. Dogs and pets of all kinds have become common in the treatment of those with dementia and related disorders. Obstacles faced with those with dementia include irritability, apathy, restlessness, depression, difficulty engaging in social activities, and risk of loneliness and isolation. Social situations often cause anxiety in dementia patients which they often avoid altogether, including interacting with family and loved ones. Those dealing with the disease can even lose motivation to maintain physical activity and even sometimes neglect necessary daily activities such as eating or even personal hygiene.
There are two ways a dog can help dementia patients as a furry service companion that lives with the patient or as visiting therapy dog. Either choice is a wonderful consideration. Because their very nature is non judgmental, animals make the perfect therapists for those suffering with dementia. They provide a tremendous source of support and unconditional love. Also research has shown that people with dementia recognize a pet as friendly and non-threatening. When they have a pet with them, studies show that they display more interactive behaviors, especially toward the pet. Dogs have been proven to reduce agitation and increase pleasure by their presence. They increase the physical activity the patient participates in; depending on the mobility of the individual, they may be able to engage in playful activities with a dog, take it for a short walk or simply groom the animal. Physical improvements have also been correlated with dementia patients who engage with animals such as increased appetite after seeing a therapy animal, lower blood pressure and increased odds of surviving a heart attack. Many individuals with dementia who will respond to little else engage with with the non-threatening presence of a gentle therapy animal. The therapy animal is also a wonderful topic for discussion for those suffering with dementia who often have anxiety about social interaction.
Therapy animals are very special animals with suitable temperament, and a certain certification and registration must be upheld. There is a special training these animals go through; the animals must prove they can react appropriately to the various scenarios that can unfold while working with a patient. There are services which offer visits from service dogs or programs that train dogs to live with owners.
Tasks of Dementia Service Dogs:
-Get the owner home when the command is given. The dog is trained to remain with his or her owner and call for help by barking if the owner refuses to go home. The dog has a GPS tracker in his or her collar which makes it easy for the owner’s family to locate the pair.
-Dogs are trained to prevent the owner from leaving the house unaccompanied. This is essential if the owner lives alone or stays home unaccompanied.
-Service dogs assist with daily tasks from waking owners up in morning, reminding them where clothes are.
-Live at home service dogs can provide physical and emotional support and can assist with balance issues, climbing and descending stairs, rising and sitting.
-Constant canine companions can improve an owner’s overall emotional well-being.
They can help provide people with increased independence and self reliance. Self sufficiency can bring about a sense of confidence and improved mood. A guide dog can encourage the owner to be more social, due to the nurturing relationship established and the fact that the patient is more likely to spend time outside and meet more people.
These animals must be bathed and groomed every day as the individuals they are working with might be susceptible to disease and infection. Also, like any working person, the animal must have time off from the job as well.
There are many resources for finding a home-based companion service dog or a therapy dog that can visit groups or individuals at assisted living facilities. Some are listed below. Additionally there are resources to assist those who would like to get a certification for their pet to become a licensed therapy dog:
-Pets for the Elderly
-Assistance Dogs International
-Alliance of Therapy Dogs