Dogs improve quality of life for dementia patients: study


A pilot study looking at the use of assistance dogs to help people living with dementia has shown some significant improvements in their quality of life.

Preliminary findings of a study conducted by Dogs 4 Dementia have found that canines dramatically improve the lives of patients with the disease.

Along with improved activity levels, early findings from the government-funded project run by charity Hammond Care, show benefits such as a sense of accomplishment, increased social and community connection, as well as other personalised benefits.

The results come as the Federal Government pledged more than $11 million for a range dementia care services.

It's estimated 46 million people live with dementia around the world - making innovation in care the key for those who suffer from the disease.

Director of Hammond Care's dementia centre, Associate Professor Colm Cunningham, said the dogs were trained to adapt to the specific needs of the people they worked with.

"So we learned about one particular man who became very angry and shouted at his wife at home," he said.

"That was becoming very worrying for her and it really was a struggle, they taught the dog to drop the toy at his feet and he would go 'I better take the dog out'."

"And, that would break the cycle of the argument."

The number of people living with dementia is expected to treble by 2050, creating the need for new ways to assist this group.

Professor of Dementia at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Sube Banerjee, said advances in the treatment of conditions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes mean we're living longer and therefore more likely to develop dementia.

"Increases in the number of people with dementia are a symptom of our success of dealing with the problems that used to kill people in mid-life," he said.

Specifically trained for the Dogs 4 Dementia program, Jiyu has been placed with Rolf Beilharz, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2013.

Mr Beilharz lives with his wife Vyrna Beilharz, and while his communication skills are diminishing, his affection for Jiyu remains solid.

"That bond, that animal is a beautiful thing to have,” he said.

His wife Vyrna agrees.

"We can't imagine life without him,” she said.

“Companionship, the smiley dog, he makes us both very happy. And of course we have to pay attention to him, we have that responsibility and he gets us out walking for an hour a day."

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