Early trials of a program which places trained assistance dogs into homes of people with dementia have returned promising results and is set to expand further.
Two trained dogs have been living in households since October, as part of the Dogs 4 Dementia program. It has been so successful that they will be increasing this to 10 households by the end of the year.
Dogs 4 Dementia is a first for Australia, being run buy aged care provider HammondCare and Assistance Dogs Australia.
The director of HammondCare’s Dementia, Colm Cunningham spoke to ABC saying that the program is already starting to have a positive impact.
“[It’s] early days. It could be that people live a lot happier at home, for longer periods of time,” Mr. Cunningham said.
“There’s a lot of stress when somebody gets dementia.
“Simply that the person can recognise the dog, be involved in their care, [the family] start to remember the person with dementia is able to do things.”
Rolf Beilhaz lives with dementia and he hand his wife Vyrna Beilharz say the program has helped them immensely.
“We’ve walked in the evening, taking the dog with us. It’s so pleasant,” Mr. Beilharz told ABC.
They have had two-year-old Jiyu, a black Labrador, with them since October, living in their Melbourne home.
“The joy of having this lovely, friendly person with us, lifts everything,” Mrs. Beilharz said.
Jiyu went through training with Assistance Dogs Australia (ADA) in order to be the perfect companion for Mr. Beilharz, starting from just eight weeks old.
He lived with volunteers for the first year of his life, and was taught basic skills. After a year the dogs move to ADA’a Training Centre, just out side of Sydney and are trained here for a further six to 10 month.
Rose Lobos is an assistance dog trainer and she says that the variety of skills they are taught are targeted towards helping with emotions.
“That can include a lot of emotional support that they offer them,” she said.
“The dogs can be taught to pick up a bottle after an alarm goes off to remind a person to have a drink.
“They can also close drawers and open doors as well. Sometimes a person might go into the kitchen and forget why they’re there.”
Dogs 4 Dementia has started with a bang and they currently have a waiting list of more than 100 applications for assistance dogs. The ADA hopes to expand training up to 60 dogs at once, but this gaol can only be achieved if they raise enough funds.
The trial has been funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Government. With more than 400,000 Australians expected to be living with dementia by 2020 Dogs 4 Dementia will be even more integral.
“It means that we’re bringing things that are about normal day to day living back into the mix,” Mr. Cunningham said. “This dog [Jiyu] could be the way people [with dementia] actually live well at home.”