Significant social and physical benefits – Dogs4Dementia program

The two inaugural couples on the Australian-first program, Dogs4Dementia, have both reported significant social and physical benefits, at the end of their twelve month trial.

The two inaugural couples on the Australian-first program, Dogs4Dementia, have both reported significant social and physical benefits, at the end of their twelve month trial.

The Melbourne couples both reported companionship, physical benefits from walking the dog and greater social interaction as the three main benefits from the program, which began in October last year. Vyrna Beilharz, with husband Rolf has one of the dogs, Jiyu.

Vyrna said: “The companionship of the dog sums up everything. Jiyu is the perfect dog to have as a companion. He is very relaxed, adaptable and affectionate and Rolf loves having the dog with him in the house.

“Walking the dog is also a very good thing for both of us – it is a fitness thing and is also very enjoyable. It would be easy to become lazy otherwise. “And interaction with other people has been a great benefit – a lot of people speak to us when we are out. Rolf is very proud of Jiyu and happily talks to people about him. Jiyu provides a window to the outside world that otherwise may not be there.”

The project involves the placement of trained dogs for a twelve month period with eight couples around Australia.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 first dogs were placed in October 2015. Director of HammondCare’s Dementia Centre, Assoc Prof Colm Cunningham, said the initial feedback was 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.

“Both couples who have so far completed the twelve month trial have had a wonderful experience, which is a very positive start. Initial qualitative findings from this project also show significant social benefits and also improved physical benefits from walking the dog and the need to be more active.” Assoc Prof Cunningham said each couple and dog has been carefully matched and supported by both organisations for the duration of the pilot. “Improved quality of life for both the person living with dementia and the carer are likely outcomes we are evaluating as well as the positive impact these beautiful dogs can have on the care-giving relationship.”

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.”

Both couples will keep the dogs and be supported by ADA. Three more couples, one each in NSW, South Australia and Queensland, are continuing on the program.

Barbara, husband John and dog Nina (also finishing on the program after 12 months)

“Life without Nina is unimaginable. In the 12 months she has lived with us she is firmly embedded in our lives as well as those of our extended family. The benefits she has brought to us have far exceeded our expectations.

She is a focus of interest and happiness for all of us and we remain optimistic that with her sharing our busy lives there is joy ahead of us. She lifts our mood, she makes us happy. It is the constant and spontaneous interactions; her antics with her toys; it is the total entwinement with our lives. She is adorable. Nina is out and about with us in the community every day.

With her friendly appearance and excellent behaviour she is a magnet for warm social interaction as we frequent our local cafes, shops and parks. At home her physical presence comforts us as she spontaneously snuggles close by, often curling up on John's feet.

She has bonded with him as he feeds, grooms and toilets her on a daily basis. There is no better de -stressor than Nina. She is our therapy dog. In different ways Nina meets both of our needs.

 Before John awakes an hour long, brisk walk early in the morning is a wonderful de-stressor for me and contributes to my physical well-being. A couple of times per day John takes Nina for a sedate walk around the block. With his iPhone in his pocket and the “Find my Friends “app we both feel comfortable about his independent short outing. Every day we are cognisant of our great good fortune in having Nina in our lives.

We longed for a dog but given our circumstances could not have welcomed a puppy into our lives. Nina lives a twenty four hour life with us with none of the problems an untrained pet would pose. She accompanies us almost everywhere, toilets on demand and with the excellent training and socialisation she received before joining us lives quietly in our home and those she visits. She is a legend.”

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