Sometimes there is such a lovely, heartwarming news connected to dementia that you just have to share that good news. Dementia Dogs is one such story. A collaboration between Alzheimer Scotland and Dogs for Good, the Scottish scheme places highly trained assistance dogs with families living with early-stage dementia.
The dogs, recognisable by their green jackets, have full public access rights and can support and accompany their owners wherever they go. This includes public transport, GP surgeries, hospital appointments, cafes, restaurants and shops. After a rigorous assessment, dogs are matched with successful applicants and then given tailored training to match the particular needs of that family. Dogs not only help with general wellbeing and resilience, but can carry out tasks such as fetching medication pouches, being a morning alarm and opening doors.
Henry, a retired police officer, lives with his wife, Anne, and Uno, one of the charity’s 12 trained dementia dogs. He explained how Uno has changed their lives. “Before Uno came to live with us Anne was reluctant to leave me on my own; Uno has given my wife the confidence to go out without me as she knows that he will support me if something goes wrong. One day I collapsed in the house and Uno stayed beside me until help came. It is amazing how intuitive he is”.
Uno also helps to look after Henry with his daily routines “Uno is trained to get my medication and is learning how to be my diabetes alert dog too. He can detect if my blood sugars are low and he puts his head on my lap to prompt me to test them”.
Although the Scottish scheme currently has no assistance dogs available, there are other schemes run by the project, including Community Dog visits, where a dedicated Community Dog and Handler work alongside a healthcare professional to help people with dementia overcome challenges to achieve a personal goal. This approach is most beneficial for people with dementia who may be feeling socially isolated, lacking confidence or independence in their daily routine either at home or out and about in the community. This is running not only in Scotland but also trialling in Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. Additionally, the project runs Dog Days. These are fun, social group events and an opportunity for gentle interaction with trained pet dogs in a dementia friendly environment. With Covid restrictions in place none of these are currently running, but as lockdown eases it is hoped they will eventually be able to restart.
For those whose lives have been touched by the dogs, their importance cannot be underestimated. Henry and Uno have become an inseparable duo as Uno helps him navigate life’s little challenges. Said Henry, “Uno helps me keep my independence, and has certainly changed my life”.
Find out how you can volunteer, fundraise or get more info at dementiadog.org.