The Role Man’s Best Friend Plays in Managing Alzheimer’s
Pet Therapy has slowly gained acceptance since it was first introduced in the early 1990s. Man’s best friend, in particular, has become a common part of daily life in nursing homes, assisted living communities, hospice programs and Alzheimer’s care centers. These furry visitors can help improve the mental and physical health of their human friends. A more recent project that originated in Scotland and has traveled to the United Kingdom is exploring how dogs can be trained to assist people with Alzheimer’s in their everyday lives.
The Health Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy
“A goal-directed intervention in which an animal is incorporated as an integral part of the clinical health-care treatment process. AAT is delivered or directed by a professional health or human service provider who demonstrates skill and expertise regarding the clinical applications of human-animal interactions.”
The health benefits of having a four-legged companion include:
- Lower rates of depression and feelings of loneliness
- Decrease in blood pressure and stress hormones
- Lower incidences of anxiety
- Increased socialization
- Decrease in physical pain
- Increased feelings of happiness and joy
- Better compliance with exercise, such as walking, when the pet therapy dog tags along
In addition to the joy and happiness pet therapy dogs create, there is growing evidence to show they can do more to help people living with Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia Assistance Dogs
The Dementia Dogs project got its start as a service project in Scotland. Since that time it has joined forces with Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs in the U.K. The idea behind the year-long pilot program which launched in August of 2013 is to use dogs to help keep people with Alzheimer’s disease safe and to support their activities of daily living.
Researchers believe the project will show how trained assistance dogs can help with everyday activities such as taking a walk and delivering medication cues, as well as looking out for their owner’s safety. One goal is to train the dog to help their owner find their way home if they become lost or to bark to draw attention to their plight if they can’t. There are two trained assistance dogs, Kaspa and Oscar currently living and working with people with Alzheimer’s disease.
If you are interested in learning more about the pilot, this short video from Dementia Dogs can help give you a better understanding of the program’s goals.