Dogs are being used as companion animals for people with an increasing number of special needs. It has been found a suitable dog makes a great companion for a person with dementia and can help the person in numerous ways. The dog may be the pet of a person with dementia who is living in the community or a therapy dog that visits an aged care facility.
Why do dogs make such good companions for the person with dementia? Dogs are good companions because they -
provide unconditional love
don't ask questions
What benefits have been noticed? Research and observation have shown the presence of a suitable dog may -
lower blood pressure
encourage the person to be more physically active
motivate the person to eat more
encourage the person to become involved in conversation
increase the likelihood of recovery from a heart attack
provide general motivation
What type of dog is suitable? Retrievers, German Shepherds, Belgium Shepherds, collies and labradors tend to be suitable breeds but it is the temperament of the dog more than the breed which matters. A dog needs to be gentle and non threatening. The dog must also remain calm even if the person waves their arms, shouts out or acts irrationally.
German Shepherds tend to be suitable Pixabay
Some people in the early or middle stages of dementia are able to remain independent for longer if they have a suitable dog living with them.
The presence of the dog may motivate the person to eat and get some exercise. A dog can be trained to open and shut doors, pick up dropped items, get the owner's medication or open a cupboard to remind the person to eat. Dogs can also learn to trigger an alarm should there be an emergency.
A dog can be trained to lead the person back home if they go for a walk and the owner forgets the way. The dog may also be trained to stay with the person and bark repeatedly to attract attention if the person gets confused when out and refuses to return home.
A trained dog can help lead a person who has dementia home if they become confused Pixabay
A therapy dog that visits people in an aged care facility can benefit all the residents. A dog can be a comfort to a person with dementia, especially if the person has always had a dog.