Dog training organizations are looking toward a new challenge: Training highly skilled “dementia dogs.” These dogs are individually trained to meet the needs of persons with memory loss problems. They provide safety and companionship. They also relieve the anxiety of family caregivers.
To support a person with dementia, dogs are trained to help with
- memory and routines. Keeping to a daily regimen helps people with dementia function independently for longer. A trained dog can provide reminders to take pills or eat meals.
- safety. A dementia dog can recognize unsafe situations. For instance, it might cue your family member to turn off the water or the stove. If wandering is a problem, the dog can serve as a door sentry. And if your loved one does wander, the dog can find him or her by scent.
- physical activity. Having a dog companion can prompt your family member to take walks, but you won’t have to worry about their getting lost. The dog knows how to get back home. Some dogs are even trained to help with balance and the physical aspects of walking.
- mood and companionship. Dogs are remarkably intuitive. They can calm an agitated person and comfort someone who is sad.
While dementia dogs can’t replace the need for a family caregiver, families nonetheless report great relief with their presence. Caregivers can sleep through the night, for instance, knowing the dog will wake them if there’s a problem. The dog can be sent in to distract an individual involved in an unconstructive behavior when a family member might be met with resistance. And the dog can provide unconditional loving attention 24/7 in a way that no family member can.
Like guide dogs for the blind, dementia dogs require months and months of specialized training. And they are not inexpensive. But some nonprofit organizations offer grant funding to subsidize the cost.