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Pioneering dementia dogs scheme is changing people’s lives

A pioneering scheme in Scotland, called the Dementia Dog Project, has seen fantastic results with their highly trained dogs who provide emotional, practical and social support to those living with dementia.

Dedicated dementia assistant dogs 

The dogs are carefully selected by the project and undergo a rigorous two-year training programme, after which they are placed with families who have been specially identified. 

The dogs that have gone on to Scotland have become dedicated dementia assistant dogs and learn the skills they need to help with specific symptoms and demands associated with dementia. The training includes responding to an alarm to fetch medication, waking a person up in the morning, nudging a person out of bed, and opening doors. When the dog is ready, they will accompany their trainer to meet with a potential family several times. This is so the trainer can gauge the patients’ needs so they can train the dog further to provide the right assistance, and so the dog can get used to their new family and the local environment. 

Fiona Corner, project manager for The Dementia Dog Project, explains, “The dogs start their training at eight weeks old in a training base in Oxfordshire and a bit like a guide dog, their first year is socialisation and obedience. 

“When the dogs are a year old, a team will look at the personality of the dog and define whether the dog can go onto the dementia programme. At a year and a half, the dogs go through more training and to see which specialist programme they will go onto.”

Real-life success stories 

The Dementia Dog Project has 11 dogs living with families across Scotland and has seen some incredible successes. Henry Rankin, a retired police officer who was diagnosed with vascular dementia 10 years ago, has had his dog Uno since 2018. Alongside his wife Anne, Harry, who is also diabetic, trained for three months with Uno whose keen senses can also detect when Harry’s blood sugar levels are low. It has given the couple confidence that Harry is safe, allowing both of them to live life to the full. As Harry puts it, “Uno keeps my independence.”

Another success story is Ken, who has vascular dementia, and his wife Glenys, who got their dementia dog, Kaspa, six years ago. According to Glenys “life is great, absolutely great. I can honestly say we would have no life without the dog. When Ken gets emotional, Kaspa goes and puts his head on Ken’s lap and when Ken gets angry, Kaspa is there with a toy to play. He is so important to us. Kaspa just covers the frustration and I trust Kaspa so much when I go out, I depend on him.”

The future of dementia care?

Currently, to qualify for a dementia dog you have to be living in Scotland, have a diagnosis of early-stage dementia and live with a full-time carer. A pilot scheme is currently underway in Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Oxford and four areas in Scotland to test a programme called the Community Dog Programme. This scheme assesses the effect that trained dogs and their handlers have on patients with dementia when they work alongside care professionals. 

Burley’s Home Care is an award-winning care service with over 10 years of providing exceptional care and support across Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire, including specialised dementia care. To find out more about our services, please don’t hesitate to contact our friendly team today on 01425 470411.