Assistance dogs are helping people with dementia live at home as the focus shifts from full-time caring to enabling patients to support themselves, according to a study presented at a recent international conference in Kyoto.
Since the arrival of an assistance dog, a man in his 60s has started going for walks by himself, Janine MacDonald of HammondCare, a Christian charity in Australia specializing in dementia, explained at the 32nd International Conference of Alzheimer’s Disease International, which ran for four days through April 29.
Under its groundbreaking pilot project Dogs 4 Dementia, HammondCare has dispatched Labrador retrievers, a breed known for assisting people with disabilities, to eight households in Australia with people suffering from dementia.
The dogs were chosen carefully to match the personalities of the people and trained to meet their specific needs. The dogs can understand 50 different cues and provide assistance in daily life, such as waking people up and warning of faucets that have not been turned off.
MacDonald reported other successful cases, including one of a person whose symptoms of depression improved, of a wife who was able to leave her senile husband at home while she went shopping, and of a man with dementia who managed to get by with his dog while his wife was hospitalized for two weeks.
The Dogs 4 Dementia project, launched in 2015, is funded by the Australian government and run by HammondCare in partnership with Assistance Dogs Australia.
Initially there were 10 assistance dogs, but two people gave up their dogs when they entered care facilities.
Among the eight dogs still active, one has remained to support and comfort the widow of its owner.
The program faces challenges. Notably, some people can’t keep big dogs due to their advanced dementia or the size of their residence.
The cost of training assistance dogs is another challenge. While there is demand for smaller assistance dogs, the training process takes a lot of money. Initial expenses of around ¥4.2 million, including training fees and insurance, are required for each canine.
MacDonald said HammondCare will exchange information with organizations that run similar programs, including one in Britain, since data obtained from the eight dogs are limited.
She said her organization will continue to promote the psychological and social benefits of having dementia assistance dogs in households.
The progress report on the Dogs 4 Dementia program was delivered on the last day of one of the world’s largest conferences on Alzheimer’s disease.