Resources for Family Caregivers of Older Adults
Service Dogs as Companions and Assistants for Seniors with Dementia

Service Dogs as Companions and Assistants for Seniors with Dementia

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Dogs as companions for seniors is a topic we like to discuss.

That is but one of the roles a dog can fill for our loved ones, though.

Yes, having the unconditional love of a pet can provide seniors who wish to age in place one with whom they can exchange love and attention, especially when they are home alone.

Pets can give purpose to a life with few other roles to fill when a senior is retired, having mobility or health issues and is unable to visit others for socialization as freely as they once did.

Did you know there are dogs that are helping seniors with tasks, too?

Service dogs are not just for people who have disabilities, such as visual or hearing impairments, mental illnesses, seizure disorders or diabetes, anymore as they once were.

Specially trained and certified dogs are finding places in homes with people with dementia.

Service Pets

Service pets (usually dogs) are specially trained to do work or perform specific tasks for people.

They can guide blind people through the city streets, alert deaf people to ringing phones or emergency sirens, can pull a wheelchair or protect someone having a seizure. More are being used for people with autism too and now with dementia.

The animal is linked with the needs of a specific person and trained to meet their special needs.

Some things a trained dog can do:

  • Flip on a light switch
  • Pick up something that was dropped
  • Alert to sounds
  • Remind to take medications or get medications
  • Bring an emergency phone to the owner
  • Respond to a smoke alarm
  • Wake up the owner
  • Keep strangers away
  • Ease mobility by pulling wheelchair and providing direction to a safe walking path

Service pets are allowed in public areas under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Most service animals are identified with a vest, badge or tags but this is not a requirement.

Owners may be asked if the pet is in service due to a disability and what tasks the pet is trained to perform.

However, a business or public location cannot demand proof of a disability to allow access to the animal and can’t charge the owner for their access.

The business is within their rights to demand the pet leaves the premises for behavior or threat.

An owner of a service dog can deduct the cost of training, medical expenses and maintaining a service dog on their taxes but not routine care, such as grooming or food, if they have a qualifying disability.

Dementia and Service Dogs

Is there a new breed in town that will help people with dementia have a better quality of life?

There just might be one, at least in terms of service and training.

Service dogs are providing comfort, companionship, and assistance for people with dementia and their family caregivers.

Because dementia affects processes in the brain, such as memory, object recognition, sequencing activities and language, specially trained service dogs can help fill the gaps by providing assistance.

Service dogs can provide both service assistance and companionship.

Dementia is considered a mental illness, which means that service dogs for people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias will have total access in public places under the ADA.

Dogs who will best fill the role of a service dog for people with dementia should have a temperament that allows them to follow commands and adjust to the mood changes in the owner and react accordingly.

Service Dog Roles for Seniors with Dementia

Dogs who assist people with dementia can be trained to:

  1. Guide their owner home if lost and will stay with the person barking out to get help
  2. Carrier of GPS coordinate locator in their collar to help families find their loved one
  3. Help with daily tasks, such as giving reminders about dressing, medications, eating — even waking them up if needed
  4. Keep the person with dementia from wandering out of the house when alone
  5. Mobility and balance support
  6. Companionship, relief of boredom and loneliness
  7. Provides tactile and cognitive stimulation
  8. Evoke memories and reminiscing
  9. Ease symptoms of Sundowning, relay a sense of calmness
  10. Help stick to the routine and guide them through their day
  11. Improves socialization, as they are conversation starters for people they meet (what is your dog’s name? etc)
  12. Send alarm if there is a fall in the home

Is there a role in your senior loved one’s life for a service dog?

Training Dogs to Meet Needs

Dogs can be trained for the specific needs of your senior loved one with dementia. Dogs are trained to the scent of the person for whom they care. This is how the dog would track them if they should wander from home.

Dogs trained to help people with dementia are led on a six-foot leash to walk in front of the person with dementia, not using a harness as with other disabilities.

The cost of training a dog for dementia caregiving is less than what one might pay for one or two months in an assisted living facility. If a dog could keep them home safely longer than that, the investment would pay for itself.

Dogs trained as dementia caregivers and in service to people with dementia are providing assistance with daily tasks, companionship, confidence and purposefulness in the life of people with dementia. In addition, they essentially anchor the reality of the senior.

Research is underway to find out how having a trained assistance dog may impact the progression of the disease, it may help slow down memory loss.

Here is a video that you might like describing dementia service dogs.

This loving friend, companion, and anchor helps people with dementia maintain a meaningful day and improves their quality of life.

9 Responses to Service Dogs as Companions and Assistants for Seniors with Dementia

  1. I am so excited by this program! Having had a dog all my 56 years I can’t imagine NOT having one. Knowing that they will provide reassurance to not only that person but their family and friends. Not to mention gIving them a purpose. It’s a win-win-win situation. Great job!

    • Thank you Cathy, pets are such an important part in the life of our seniors and family caregivers too! It truly is a win-win-win situation!

  2. Hello! Do you know where I can look in to getting a service dog for dementia? My grandfather has dementia and I have been researching about these programs but have not been able to find a ton on it.

    • Hi Faith, there are places that will help train your dog, find an appropriate dog for your situation and then train that dog or give you more information about service pets. Have you contacted Assistance Dogs of America or Dog Wish? Good luck!

  3. My mother is trying to age at home. She has recently been diagnosed with Parkinsons and is having a hallucinations and she is scared. She is starting to take some medications to help with the hallucinations but hasn’t kicked in. My sisters about a companion dog for her. How do we go ahead and research cost and availability

    • Companion dogs for seniors can be found through organizations that will find and train dogs specific to your needs. You can also train your own pet to become certified. Look for a center that certifies dogs to be companions. Good luck!

  4. I am looking for a companion/service dog for my mother who is 95 and lives alone. She has severe short term memory loss, but is physically able and can handle most of her household chores.

    She lives in southwestern Pennsylvania. Can you recommend a place where I could get such a dog for her, or a place in that area where I could get training for such a dog?

    • Donna, companion dogs for seniors can be found through organizations that will find and train dogs specific to your needs. You can also train your own pet to become certified. Look for a center near you that certifies dogs to be companions or service animals. It is important that the animal be properly trained (and the owner) by to be certified. Good luck!

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