Chances are you’ve seen someone in a store or at the airport with a service dog. Canines that serve as guide dogs for the blind are probably the most familiar form of service dog. There are also dogs that help people who are physically disabled and those with hearing impairments. Now dogs are being trained to help people with early and middle stage dementia. That’s good news since the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that there are nearly 5 million Americans who are living with Alzheimer’s.
The Service Dog’s Role
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a dog that is specifically trained to help an individual with a disability is a service dog. Because dementia is considered a mental illness, dogs who are trained to assist dementia patients are considered service dogs. The ADA also permits service dogs to accompany their owners to any public place.
Service dogs trained for people with dementia are able to fill the gaps left by the condition. With a service dog and the help of family caregivers and professional elder care providers, dementia patients can continue to live in their homes and remain independent for longer. A Psychology Today article suggests that dogs can be trained to provide dementia patients with reminders for day to day tasks, such as eating and bathing. For example, the dog can be trained to respond to an alarm by leading their owner into the bathroom. There, the person will found a note left by the family caregiver or elder care provider telling them to wash and dress. This way, the dementia patient retains a sense of dignity since they accomplish the task on their own with just a reminder from a trusted companion.
Service dogs for dementia patients can also be fitted with a GPS device attached to their collar so that if the patient should become lost with their dog, family members can track the device and bring the person safely home.
Service dogs also play an important role in preventing isolation. Since the dog has to be walked daily, the patient engages in physical activity outside and has a chance to interact with others. Walking with a dog makes it more likely that others will approach the person to start a conversation. The dog also provides their owner with a companion for times when they are otherwise alone.
Tasks the Dog Performs
Dementia service dogs are trained to perform a number of tasks in addition to providing reminders. Other tasks a service dog for dementia may do are:
- Guide the person home if they become disoriented.
- Bark to draw attention to the person if there is a need for help.
- Prevent the person from wandering away from the house.
- Trigger an alarm inside the home of the person falls.
- Assists with following a set routine for the day.
- Provide balance and mobility assistance.
Though adding a dog to the mix may create some additional tasks, a service dog could be a good fit for your parent with dementia. An elder care provider can assist your parent with some of the care responsibilities, such as driving your parent to the veterinarian for the dog’s check-ups or helping your parent to feed or brush the dog.
If you or an aging loved one are considering elder care in Fountain Hills, AZ, contact the caring staff at Assisting Hands Home Care at (480) 725-7002.