I’ve long wondered if service dogs could be of use to dementia patients. This week, several articles talked about a so far successful experiment taking place in the U.K. that has matched specially-trained service dogs to assist those with early-stage dementia. I hope the trend spreads across the pond!
As I suspected, service dogs can perform key tasks to help keep dementia patients safe at home. This includes bringing them their medication at a certain time and reminding them it’s time to take a walk so they stay active. I can also see service dogs being trained to give a warning bark if a dementia patient tries to go outside alone. This could be an effective way to reduce wandering incidents which are always stressful and frightening for everyone involved, and unfortunately, occasionally deadly if the wandering patient cannot be located quickly and is exposed to extreme elements.
Dogs and animals in general often brighten the mood of everyone around them. This could help relieve depression and stress in patient and caregiver alike. Nursing homes often have a therapy pet visit on a regular basis and it’s usually a big hit with residents.
Of course, one has to weight the additional burden on the caregiver for caring for a dog (despite their amazing skills they are still dogs that need to be fed/groomed/taken outside to relieve themselves.) A service dog won’t be the right fit for every family but it could be a wonderful benefit for others. Hopefully charities will help offset the cost of these service dogs so that needy families can take advantage of such an amazing service.