Senior Care News: Service Dogs and Dementia Patient Care

You are likely aware of service dogs that have been trained to provide assistance to the blind or those who are hard of hearing. Additionally, you may have heard of therapy dogs that work with patients with various forms of mental illness such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, dogs are proving to be quite useful in another setting. Now, researchers are finding that dogs can improve life for dementia patients as well.

Dogs provide many benefits for dementia sufferers.

Dementia on the Rise

According to an article in Psychology Today, it is estimated that around 15 percent of people older than 65 will suffer from some form of dementia, and an additional 10 percent will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. This amounts to around 5.5 million people. Sadly, this may be a conservative estimate, considering the vast sea of Baby Boomers now entering their retirement years.

While funding for Alzheimer’s research continues to receive national attention, it is clear that there is much work to do to understand and treat this disease more effectively. One such treatment being researched is the use of service dogs to help dementia patients.

How Service Dogs Help Seniors Suffering with Dementia

What can service dogs actually do to assist dementia patients? First, dogs in general can have a positive effect on seniors, whether the senior is suffering from dementia or not. Dogs provide unconditional love, often easing symptoms of loneliness for their owners. A Senior Care Corner article notes: “Pets can give purpose to a life with few other roles to fill when a senior is retired, having mobility or health issues and is unable to visit others for socialization as freely as they once did.”

However, service dogs trained to help dementia patients do much more than simply offer affection and companionship. For instance, a service dog trained to care for a dementia patient can:

  • Lead the senior back to a safe location if he or she exhibits wandering behavior
  • Lead a senior back to his or her living area with a simple “Home” command
  • Bark to call attention to a dementia patient in trouble
  • Track a lost dementia patient by scent
  • Respond to a pre-programmed sound trigger to prompt a dementia patient to take a certain action like taking medication, grooming, or eating on schedule
  • Trigger an alarm if the dementia patient becomes unresponsive or falls

The Psychology Today article notes another important benefit that service dogs provide for dementia patients, stating: “They create a psychological anchor to reality by maintaining a meaningful daily routine which thus adds to the quality of life.”

Service Dogs in Assisted Living

While most service dogs trained for dementia care are used in home settings for dementia sufferers, they can also be found in assisted living environments. Some assisted living communities allow residents to have therapy dogs or service animals in their living quarters.

Many assisted living communities provide therapy dogs for residents.

Additionally, some assisted living communities regularly provide sessions with therapy dogs for residents who would benefit from such interaction. If you would like to find an assisted living community in your area that utilizes service animals for dementia patients, speak to a care advisor today.

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