Man’s Best Friend: Dementia Service Dogs Can Be A Lifesaver

Dementia Dog Program

We often develop relationships with patients suffering from dementia in she shop, and we’ve seen firsthand the difficulties associated with a dementia diagnosis, and how it affects every aspect of a person’s life, as well as those around them.

A diagnosis of dementia doesn’t mean a person ceases to be themselves, even though problems with memory, concentration, and planning make living with dementia difficult, focusing on the things a patient can still do and enjoy helps a lot for them to stay positive. 

In the early stages of dementia, a patient may be able to live at home, continuing to enjoy doing the things they have always done and having an active social life.

As the illness progresses, extra help will likely be required with daily activities, such as housework, shopping, and cooking. At this point, devising a care plan for your loved one diagnosed with dementia is essential. For millions of people coping with dementia, that care plan includes assistance from a service animal. 

Guide dogs to assist the blind are the most well-known kinds of therapy dogs, but there are assistance dogs to help people with all sorts of illnesses and conditions, from diabetes to PTSD, and now dementia. 

Agitation is a common symptom in dementia patients. The dogs trained to help the specific needs of these patients distract their owners and get them to refocus through behavior interruption and anxiety reduction.

It takes an average of two years to train a service dog, so most dementia specialists recommend that families apply for a dog as soon as possible after their loved one receives a diagnosis.  Insurance does not cover the cost of the dog or expenses related to caring for the dog, although flexible spending accounts may be an option to help pay for the costs if the patient has qualified for disability. Fundraising is another option to help cover expenses, and most dementia-support organizations can give families ideas for how to do this successfully. 

Dementia assistance dogs can be trained to wake their owners, fetch medication, and walk on a dual lead. Some are also trained to support their owners with balance issues, prevent them from leaving their home unaccompanied, and even ease symptoms of sundown syndrome, a condition that causes patients to become confused and agitated.

Importantly, service dogs can also help caregivers and family supporting their loved one diagnosed with dementia. Many credit these dogs with providing families comfort during what some describe as the hardest thing they’ve ever gone through. 

Finally, whether it’s a trained therapy dog or a family cat, contact with animals provides measurable health benefits. According to the American Heart Association, studies have shown that our beloved pets may help lower blood pressure, and support smaller increases in heart rate and blood pressure in response to stress. 

Those of us on the sidelines can do a lot to help those struggling with the debilitating effects of dementia, from assisting in gathering information and resources, to just plain old listening when the going gets particularly tough. Fortunately, our four-legged friends can also play a vital role in helping those suffering from dementia in so many ways as well as providing comfort to their caregivers.