A pilot study from Australia has found assistance dogs can improve quality of life for those with dementia.
They’re known as man’s best friend, and according to the preliminary findings of a study conducted by Dogs 4 Dementia and funded by the charity Hammond Care, they make ideal companions for people with dementia.
The study found having a specially trained dementia dog led to improved activity levels, a sense of accomplishment, increased social and community connection, as well as other personalised benefits.
Director of Hammond Care’s dementia centre, Associate Professor Colm Cunningham, said the dogs were trained to adapt to the specific needs of the people they worked with.
‘So we learned about one particular man who became very angry and shouted at his wife at home.
‘That was becoming very worrying for her and it really was a struggle, they taught the dog to drop the toy at his feet and he would go ‘I better take the dog out’.
‘And, that would break the cycle of the argument.’
One couple – Rolf and Vyrna Beilharz – had a specially trained dementia dog called Jiyu placed with them. Rolf was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013, and his communication skills are diminishing, although the bond he has with Jiyu remain strong.
‘That bond, that animal is a beautiful thing to have,’ he said. His wife Vyrna agrees.
‘We can’t imagine life without him,’ she said.
‘Companionship, the smiley dog, he makes us both very happy. And of course we have to pay attention to him, we have that responsibility and he gets us out walking for an hour a day.’
For information on keeping a pet when you have dementia, click here.
You can learn more about the benefits of dogs for mental health here.