Significant benefits from Dogs4Dementia program – interim report

Early learnings from Australia’s-first Dogs4Dementia project, being trialled in Australia, show significant benefits to both physical and emotional well-being for the couples involved.

An interim report, released today (June 16) at an international dementia conference in Sydney, shows overall physical and emotional wellbeing of both the person living with dementia and their carer, have improved since the first dogs were placed in October last year. There have been no dementia-related admissions to hospital for any of the couples since the project began.

Director of HammondCare’s Dementia Centre, A/Prof Colm Cunningham, said these results were very promising: “With thousands of Australians currently living with dementia and this figure expected to treble by 2050, it is essential we find innovative ways of keeping people at home for longer."

"The initial qualitative findings from this project so far show significant social benefits and also improved physical benefits from walking the dog and the need to be more active."

The main findings of the interim report are:

  1. Activity levels of both carer and the person with dementia have increased – couples are more active
  2. Increased levels of socialisation both outside and inside the home for carer and the person with dementia, including interaction with local community and family
  3. Improved feelings of safety and security for the person with dementia
  4. Increased levels of emotional well-being including carer relief and less agitation for the person with dementia

The Dogs4Dementia project, run by HammondCare in partnership with Assistance Dogs Australia (ADA), is funded by the Federal Government, to evaluate the placement of trained assistance dogs for people living with dementia and their carers at home. It was hoped these dogs would promote greater independence, confidence, and allow people who have dementia to remain living at home for longer.

The project involves the placement of trained dogs with eight couples around Australia. The first dogs were placed in October 2015.

A/Prof Cunningham said each couple and dog has been carefully matched and supported by both organisations for the duration of the pilot.

“Reduced hospitalisation and delayed admission to residential aged care are possible outcomes we are evaluating as well as the positive impact these beautiful dogs can have on the care-giving relationship and carer wellbeing.”

Assistance Dogs Australia’s Top Dog, Richard Lord said, “Assistance Dogs Australia is enjoying working closely with HammondCare in this ground breaking project."

“We know that our experience in providing service dogs for people with physical disabilities, children with autism and for those suffering from PTSD will hold us in good stead when working with the participants in the project."

Conference highlights

Dogs4Dementia has been a favourite of the Grand Designs conference with three couples and their assistance dogs enjoying the conference and featuring in a popular concurrent session where the research learnings were presented. Jeni Lennox also presented at the session, speaking of her experience with the world-first trials of dementia assistance dogs in Scotland.

HammondCare: HammondCare is an independent Christian charity specialising in health and aged care, with a particular emphasis on dementia care and palliative care.