The valuable help that service dogs can bring to people is no longer limited just to people with vision impairment issues. In recent years, service dogs have been shown to be helpful to people with a range of conditions — including dementia.
Many of the functions that a service dog can perform for a person with dementia fall under the category of what might be termed “practical” assistance. For example, a dog can be trained to help bring a person with dementia home. Wandering and roaming can be a significant problem in dementia, with many patients getting lost. A service dog can be given a signal — such as the simple word “home” — which the patient can speak so that the dog will lead them back to their home.
Caregivers can also arrange for a chip to be included on the dog’s collar. If a patient has been gone too long or has left the house without the caregiver’s notice, the chip can be activated, which tells the dog to bring the patient back home.
Service dogs can also be trained to perform other functions. For example, a bell or buzzer can be activated to ring at a certain time and the dog taught to perform a specific function at that time, such as leading the patient to the kitchen for lunch or bringing the patient a bag with a dose of medicine.
If a patient gets up in the middle of the night and is disoriented, the dog can get the attention of the caregiver.
Emotional and Social Support
Perhaps equally important, service dogs may provide emotional and social support that can improve the quality of life for many dementia patients. When a person with dementia becomes agitated or distressed, a dog can provide comfort and reassurance. Many patients develop a deep bond with their dogs because the relationships are more basic and less complicated than some relationships with humans.
In addition, the need to walk the dog gives the patient not only physical exercise but also a chance to interact with other people. Many dog walkers have brief social interactions with people they meet on their walks. And because the interactions may include questions and conversation about the dog, the patient may experience more comfort than in talking about their own health or feelings.
Not every person with dementia responds positively to a service dog, but home caregivers may want to explore this option if it seems like a good fit for their particular situation.