Once a loved one requires care, many families think that the only option is to turn to a care home. However, keeping a loved one at home for as long as possible is a hope that many have. According to Helping Hands, “a move into a care home, especially for an elderly person who is accustomed to their home environment – can be a major upheaval” and “having to move with essential belongings only, sell furniture or other knick-knacks and even let go of pets can be far too upsetting for some”.
Fortunately, there are now options available for care at home to be provided, and this type of service means people can stay at home- with carers coming out to them. Not only this, but provisions for those being cared for at home continues to expand- with resources and research growing.
One of the more recent services being explored and evidenced is the use of ‘care’ dogs for dementia patients. Although companies like Helping Hands don’t provide dogs as part of their care packages, separate charities and private organisation get alongside this type of care provider- with the aim to offer additional support to a person being cared for at home.
For many years, dogs have been trained as crucial companions for people who are blind, deaf or who have learning difficulties. However, in more recent times, the Glasgow School of Art created the ‘Dementia Dog Project,’ whereby they looked at the benefits that a trained dog could have to somebody experiencing dementia. People were matched with suitable dog candidates to trial at home. Families reported that they could see improvements when their loved one was paired with a caring canine.
In terms of care, of course the dogs do not replace any parts of a carer’s role. However, these trained dogs have shown possibilities and skills to support a person living this disease in their everyday life. This is because trained dogs can help those with dementia to walk; support simple tasks around the house; or give cues that medication needs to be taken.
These animals can also be trained to respond to the word “Home”- and they should be able to guide the owner back home. If the person with dementia forgets where they are, or becomes disoriented, then the dog will guide them back to where they live. GPS trackers on the collars also means that the owner’s family can find the location of the pair- should they need to.
Dogs who work in service can additionally assist in daily tasks. The animals can help a person find their clothes. The dogs can also bring the medication to the owner in bite-proof packaging, to ensure that the owner takes the medication when they need it. For dementia patients, memory struggles often play a large part of the illness- and its challenges. Dogs can aid with ‘reminders’ and give owners a sense of trust that they do not have to only rely on their memory alone to take important medication or find necessities in the home.
Physical tasks can also be made much more accessible and easier by having a service dog. If somebody suffering dementia struggles with physical activities, such as rising and sitting, balancing or using stairs, then a dog can be trained to support these contexts.
One of the biggest benefits of having a trained service dog in the home is the emotional impact it can have on someone with dementia. Especially if a person lives alone, a dog can provide somebody to talk to; somebody to focus on and care for; and improve a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness.
When it comes to weighing up the pros of opting for ‘care at home’ providers, there are many reasons why it is appealing. However, it can also be practical. When considering care provision, it is a good idea for people to think about additional services, like service dogs, which could make the experience at home even more suited to an individual. Trained dog services are not allowed in the context of a Care Home but, of course, in the comfort of a person’s home, they can welcome and trial this type of support all they like. Moreover, if a loved one has enjoyed pets or animals in the past, then this is another way of them being able to continue living life as ‘themselves.’
Overall, opting for ‘home care’ providers allows more freedom for a dementia patient to experience life as close to their ‘norm’ as possible. The added benefit of a trained dog is that it can offer a loved one companionship, care support and enjoyment for the person.
Huge thank you to guest blogger Ella Hendrix for this piece.