Dementia Dogs provide hope for families

Assistance dogs provide both physical and emotional benefits for people with dementia and their carers, according to findings released today from the evaluation of the three-year Dementia Dog Programme in Scotland.

This includes promoting resilience and citizenship opportunities within communities.

Receiving a diagnosis of dementia is a stressful experience for the person and those close to them. The future can be uncertain and the person with dementia and their carer may feel anxious and alone.

The Dementia Dog Project is a collaboration between Alzheimer Scotland and Dogs for Good that explores how trained dogs can help people live well with dementia.  Funding from the Life Changes Trust in Scotland enabled the project to train and provide assistance dogs to people with dementia who live at home with an unpaid carer.

HammondCare was funded to undertake the programme evaluation, exploring the impact of the dogs on the lives of people living with dementia and carers.  Unlike other evaluations of this kind, this evaluation also included discussion on the economic impact of the programme and the wider societal benefits.

Over the three-year project, eight assistance dogs were trained and matched with families. In addition to providing emotional support and companionship for the person with dementia and the carer, dementia assistance dogs help to keep the routines of daily living in place and support connections with the community.

One finding from the report termed “domestic co-production”(Christie, 2018) describes the new relationships that form within the home as the dog becomes part of the care team, as well as being loved and looked after by the person with dementia. The presence of the dogs also fosters a sense of hope.

“We enjoyed our usual morning walk together when Ben was still in bed. Her joy of being out in the open is catching and lifts me up to start the day in a more positive way than I otherwise would,” said one participant.”

Care tasks can also be undertaken by the dog, such as prompting the person with dementia when it is time to get up in the morning. This promotes independence for the person living with dementia. A carer described the benefits of this:

“In the morning I let her (the assistance dog) out and she comes inside and wakes Graham up without a murmur from him. If I told him to get up at 7am it wouldn’t work, but there’s not a word to Ola,”

The project evaluation, shaped by two other dementia dog projects, Dementia Dog (Scotland) and Dogs for Dementia (Australia) concludes that assistance dogs have a significant impact in both the lives of people living with dementia and unpaid carers. Assistance dogs are a constant resource and provide a point of continuity in people’s lives as they live with the constant changes that dementia can bring.  Using an assistance dog, alongside a specialist team of support can provide a range of long-term benefits.

Arlene Crockett, Director of Evidence and Influencing for the Dementia Programme at the Life Changes Trust said: “From reading this report and speaking directly to families who have dementia assistance dogs, it’s clear that there are compellingly and tangible improvements in the lives of these families. Having a dog as part of the family provides support for the person living with dementia to feel more confident and part of their own community, as well as providing help with daily tasks such as reminders to take medication and dressing. 

These incredible dogs also support the partner of the person with dementia, giving them more independence and peace of mind, knowing that their loved one is safe.  There are also health and well-being benefits that come with having to walk a dog, as well as creating a social bridge with others in the community.  Dementia assistance dogs clearly provide a broad range of significant benefits and positive impacts for families living with dementia.”

Fiona Corner, Manager of Dementia Dog Project adds, “The exciting launch of this report marks a real milestone for the Dementia Dog team – sharing the evidence of the amazing outcomes assistance dogs can bring for both a person with the diagnosis and their carer – and how this learning can also help shape the future for the next chapter of Dementia Dog Project.”

Read more about the launch and access the report