Alzheimer’s is a progressive form of dementia that affects millions of Americans. The confusion and disorientation that is a result of memory loss can create significant safety and anxiety challenges. Alzheimer’s Assistance Dogs are trained as part of a three unit team, where a spouse/full time caregiver utilizes the tasks that the service dog can provide as a tool to assist the client with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. The skills of the Alzheimer’s Assistance Dog are dependent on the caregiver’s commands.
Often before the individual loses the ability to walk, they can wander from the home and do not have the ability to find their way home or explain to others that they are lost. Alzheimer’s Assistance Dogs can be trained in tracking, where a caregiver notices that the individual has become lost and uses the dog scent based search and rescue skills to find the lost person.
As the disease may progressive, the partner may experience stability issues. 4 Paws service dogs can be trained to wear a balance harness for non weight bearing support when the individual is in public and the caregiver is there to handle the service dog.
A frustrating aspect of this disease is the mental anguish it can cause. The service dogs can provide a comfort and refocus by providing tasks like kisses, snuggles and laying their head in their partner’s lap.
Almost as important as the trained tasks we have discussed, like all dogs trained or not, they also provide companionship and friendship for their partner. They create an anchor to reality by maintaining a meaningful daily routine, which thus adds to the quality of life. Walking the dog every day with the caregiver provides exercise for the partner and keeps them healthy longer. It also encourages social interaction between the human partner in the team and other people. These social interactions reduce the sense of loneliness and isolation experienced by people with dementia. In fact, it is good for their caregivers as well. In the first Alzheimer’s Assistance Dog placement made by 4 Paws, the husband has said to us multiple times, “This dog doesn’t just help my wife, she saved my life.”