Can Assistance Dogs Help Those with Early-Stage Dementia?

Most people are accustomed to seeing people who have impaired vision or who are blind receiving assistance from guide dogs. These dogs have been trained to help those with visual impairment, enabling them to get around with greater ease and to perform day to day tasks. However, a new study in Australia is now looking into the use of these assistance dogs to help patients with early-stage dementia.

When it comes to aged care facilities, there are a number of options available to those that are suffering from dementia. This includes facilities such as day respite centres, overnight respite facilities, day centres, and support groups. However, in addition to these respite care and support facilities, it is thought that assistance dogs could offer dementia patients a new lease of life.

Assistance dogs being re-trained

As part of the project, a number of assistance dogs that are usually used to provide help to the visually impaired are being re-trained. The training is designed to teach the dogs to provide assistance to those who suffer from early-stage dementia as well as to their carers. The study is being overseen by a number of organisations. This includes Dementia Australia, the University of Melbourne, and Vision Australia Seeing Eye Dogs.

A number of early-stage dementia patients have already been teamed with assistance dogs, and those involved with the training have been checking on their progress. So far, the results have been very positive, which suggests that assistance dogs could actually make a big difference to the quality of life of those with early-stage dementia.

A positive experience

One dementia patient who was teamed up with an assistance dog twelve months ago described it as a very positive experience. She said that she looked after the dog and he looked after her. Her partner and carer also agreed that since the assistance dog had become part of their lives, it had made a huge difference. She added that they had to spend much more time at home now due to progression of the dementia but that the dog made it far easier for them to do that.

The training of these dogs is pretty comprehensive. They are taught how to sense the mood of their owner as well as to sense anxiety. In addition, they are trained how to differentiate between different tones of voice and even to provide assistance if their owner gets lost. One official from Dementia Australia said that the dogs were proving to be a huge bonus in the treatment of dementia.

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