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Are There Service Dogs For Alzheimer’s Patients?

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What if your senior with Alzheimer’s disease is incredibly stubborn and refuses to move into your place so you can help them? They’ve also resisted the idea of living in a nursing home or assisted living. But, you’d at least like someone there to look over them, even if it can’t be you.

Are Alzheimer’s patients eligible for service dogs? Alzheimer’s patients can indeed use service dogs, and the dogs can be highly beneficial. A dementia dog receives special training and can find a wandering Alzheimer’s patient, remind them to eat, pick up dropped items plus they make good companions.

In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about this new breed of service dog for Alzheimer’s patients, including the benefits of a dog’s company as well as how you would even go about finding a companion service dog for older adults with dementia.

Let’s begin!

Can People With Dementia Get Service Dogs?

Service dogs, depending on their duty, will be trained for different roles. For example, seizure alert dogs have a different skill set than psychiatric service dogs.

Other types of service dogs include mobility assistance dogs, hearing dogs, diabetic alert dogs, guide dogs / seeing eye dogs for the blind or visually impaired, autism service dogs, and allergy detection dogs.

I realize that you don’t see any dementia service dogs on that list but, in reality, some dogs are trained specifically to assist those affected by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. They are called neurotherapy dogs (or neuro dogs), but we’ll refer to them throughout this article as service dogs or dementia dogs.

Here are some of the extensive training programs dementia dogs go through.

Behavior Redirection

It’s heartbreaking for family members to watch a loved one with Alzheimer’s get up in the middle of the night to start on daily tasks when they should be sleeping. Unfortunately, though, due to the mental deterioration that dementia sufferers endure, that could be your reality.

A trained dog can use what’s known as behavior redirection to prevent these kinds of unwanted actions in a senior with dementia. Maybe the dog snuggles up with the senior or puts its head in the senior’s lap.

The senior will notice the dog being affectionate and may decide not to get up and do what they were going to. 

This keeps the senior safer, as you don’t want them up in the dead of night turning on their stove top burner with no understanding of what they’re doing. 

Social Interaction

A service dog can help increase social interaction through helping the person join a group or rejoin one they haven’t been to lately. There are groups for pet lovers and dog owners, and simply going to the dog park with the animal can give the senior a chance to connect with others.

Tracking

A side benefit is helping the senior increase their physical activity, through daily walks. You want the person to stay active, yet it’s every adult child’s worse nightmare that their senior parent or loved one with dementia will get up, leave the house, and have no idea where they are. 

One of the most valuable services that a trained service dog can offer Alzheimer’s patients is tracking. These dogs go through scent training and can use their sense of smell to determine where the senior might have gone off to and then safely bring them home.

Read about GPS shoes for dementia.

Item Collection 

Seniors can drop things without realizing it when they have dementia. The item then becomes a tripping hazard. A service dog can be trained to notice when a senior drops items and then collect them to keep the walking path free and clear. 

Is A Dog Good For Someone With Alzheimer’s?

You hadn’t been aware that service dogs are trained to assist seniors with Alzheimer’s. Even still, you can’t help but wonder, is a service dog really the best solution for them?

We’ll look at both sides of the coin here because that’s the only way to make a fair decision.

The benefits of a service dog for someone with Alzheimer’s includes:

  • Provides companionship: By far the greatest benefit of a service dog for an Alzheimer’s patient is the sense of companionship. The dog is with the senior 24/7 when other people necessarily are not. 
  • Peace of mind for family: The senior’s immediate family can rest assured that their loved one is less likely to get lost with the service dog in tow. The peace of mind that provides is indescribable. 
  • Nonjudgmental: It can be difficult to be around a senior with dementia at times, and not only because they become forgetful. Their mood can change and at times is unpleasant. The company of a dog is an outlet that never judges the senior no matter how they feel.
  • Keeps a senior sociable: Dementia is an isolating disease. When an Alzheimer’s patient has a service dog, they’ll have to take that dog out. Getting out into the world might help reduce the feelings of loneliness a senior is experiencing.

The Downsides Of A Service Dog For Someone With Alzheimer’s

Some of the points we touched on above could be the very reason why a service dog maybe isn’t the best choice for an Alzheimer’s patient.

  • The mood changes that an Alzheimer’s patient undergoes could potentially have a negative impact on the dog. A senior in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s is quicker to anger, so if the dog has an accident or breaks an expensive vase or something similar, a senior might yell at the dog more than usual.
  • If a senior with dementia struggles with basic tasks like remembering to feed, bathe, and dress themselves, how are they going to manage to take care of a dog as well? (Read about how to take a pet away from a dementia patient.)
  • The added responsibility might be too much pressure.

While that’s true, as we’ll talk about in the next section, a service dog is equipped to remind a senior with dementia to feed the dog and let them out.

How Do Service Dogs Help With Dementia?

Besides the aforementioned benefits that a senior with dementia can reap if they bring home a service dog, the highly-trained nature of these canines means the service dog can assist the senior in a multitude of ways.

Let’s take a closer look now.

Alarm Triggers For Emergencies

Did your senior parent or loved one fall or have an accident around the house? If they’re the only one at home and they can’t get to a phone, this can very quickly become another one of those nightmare scenarios.

Not with a service dog in the house, it won’t be. The dog will be able to trigger an alarm so emergency services are sent to the home immediately. Your senior loved one will get the care and medical attention they need.

Eating Reminders

A dementia patient can quickly lose the ability to care for themselves, and that includes eating as well. If a senior can otherwise prepare food for themselves but just forgets to eat, a service dog can remind them.

Again, perhaps the dog can use alerts to notify the senior they have to eat something. A service dog can even access the cupboard and open it, which is the senior’s signal to prepare a meal.

By the way, service dogs can remind their owners that they, too, need to eat. This can solve the issue from before of a senior with dementia forgetting to feed their service dog. 

Prevents The Senior From Getting Lost

It’s a lot harder for a senior to wander off when they have a service dog in their care. The dog knows the path and can guide the senior home.

Of course, you already know that if a senior with dementia gets lots, a service dog can usually rescue them as well.

Medication Reminders

It’s not only that a service dog can remind a senior with Alzheimer’s to eat but to take their medication as well. 

Whether it’s the senior’s dementia medication or a laundry list of other medications they’re on, they won’t forget to take a single pill. 

Open And Close Doors

We’ve established that the mobility of a senior with dementia can take a nosedive in some patients. A service dog can provide some degree of autonomy to the senior by opening doors and closing them as needed.

How To Get A Service Dog For Dementia

Service dogs are technically not pets, so it’s not like you can call up shelters or visit pet stores to find one. 

Rather, you’d have to find an organization or training facility that offers service dogs for dementia patients and then apply for a dog.

In the United States, Wilderwood Service Dogs and Assistance Dogs International are two such places that can help you learn more about getting a neurological service dog for someone with dementia / Alzheimer’s.

In the UK, Alzheimer’s Scotland and Dementia Dog Project collaborate to bring therapy dogs to people living in care homes or their own homes for regular visits and support services (check out the Dementia Dog website for more information).

Besides the application, some organizations may require letters of reference as well as a health form from the senior’s doctor that recommends a service dog.

Yes, these are more steps than what you’d have to go through when applying to adopt a usual four-legged friend, but that’s because service dogs are anything but usual.

Plus, given the circumstances, the organization that’s adopting service dogs wants to ensure that the dog ends up in a kind, nurturing environment. 

If a trained service dog is out of the question for your loved one, you may consider companion dogs, instead. While not trained for specific tasks, they can still make a big difference in the quality of life of someone with dementia.

Having a furry friend has been shown to have positive outcomes for some medical conditions, such as helping calm the person and reduce their blood pressure, as well as providing them with physical activity.

In addition, the presence of animals provides the unconditional love and emotional support the person with memory loss needs as they navigate the disease.

Conclusion 

Service dogs for Alzheimer’s patients can provide companionship and nonjudgmental support. The dog will remind a senior with dementia to take medication and to feed themselves and the dog.

Further, a service dog can help a senior with mobility by picking up dropped items and opening and closing doors. They’re also an invaluable resource for seniors who frequently wander off due to their dementia.

If you’re considering a service dog for your senior parent or loved one with dementia, we hope this article helps!

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