When most people think of service animals, the seeing eye dog usually comes to mind, and in all fairness, service dogs were primarily trained to serve the vision impaired. But recently, animal therapy is meeting memory support, as dogs are now being trained for dementia assistance, as demonstrated by a BBC documentary highlighting a program underway in Scotland.
The idea came, interestingly enough, from a student service design project at the Glasgow School of Art. Working in tandem with Alzheimer Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs Scotland, the team developed a program to train two dogs for 18 months. The dogs were trained to perform general tasks, as well as remind their owners where their clothes are, which medications to take, and to raise an alarm in the event of an emergency.
“Dogs love routine. They love that predictability,” said Helen McCain of Dogs for the Disabled in an interview with BBC News. “By using that hook, we can then teach them to actually sort of remind people by the sound of an alarm to go and get the medication at the allotted time of the day.”
Since memory impaired patients may withdraw from people, professional caregivers note that animal therapy can help them counteract those feelings of isolation and loneliness, as well as relieve depression, agitation and disorientation. Others simply enjoy the companionship and physical contact provided by the animal, hence their popularity in the eldercare setting.
Oscar, a golden retriever, and Kaspa, a Labrador, have now been working with their new owners for the last 4 months, and results have exceeded expectations.
MARKETING INSIGHT: The senior care industry was one of the first to recognize the benefits of animal therapy, and is now warming to the idea of allowing residents to have pets – something we saw firsthand during Project Looking Glass II.
For many communities, wellness programs, hospitality and living options are ways to stand out from the competition. However, as the rate of Alzheimer’s disease and other memory-related conditions reach alarming rates – and as many communities struggle to adjust their assisted living sectors for those increasingly entering with memory issues – a pet program could be a unique element that would make the transition easier for new residents, and act as a unique community differentiator.
The Varsity Team