Many people are affected by dementia in the UK, and having a dog could provide some much-needed support and comfort. Here, Julie Butcher from Webbox takes us through the benefits of having a four-legged friend.

Dogs are mans best friend, but did you know that they can also be extremely helpful for those with dementia? Dementia affects an estimated 850,000 patients across the UK, as well as approximately 540,000 people who care for them (NHS England). It’s a much more common condition than many people might realise.

Dementia has a variety of symptoms, such as memory problems, the ability to use language clearly, and coordination (NHS). However, there are a number of ways having a dog can improve things for people living with the condition.

Offering companionship

Having a dog provides companionship. This can be particularly helpful for people who have dementia as it can be an isolating illness. Not only are dogs calming animals to be around, but they communicate non-verbally. This is extremely helpful to people with dementia, as patients often find their ability to communicate through language is affected by the condition.

Dogs can also bridge the gap when it comes to social interactions. If a dementia sufferer feels uncomfortable around other people, the canine companionship can help them feel more confident and at ease when interacting with friends, family, and carers. If someone is able to walk their dog, then they might also feel able to chat with people during these walks (Open Access Government).

Routine

It’s common for people with dementia to find it comforting to have routine in their lives. Canines also thrive on having predictable daily timetables. Having a dog can help to emphasise routine, thus providing a sense of familiarity and sense of security.

Even simple things like waking up at the same time to feed their dog, or help feed it, can bring a sense of routine. Regular walks, bedtimes, and mealtimes all contribute to a calming personal schedule that can create a secure atmosphere for a dementia patient. If you are considering getting a therapy dog for a loved one with dementia, ask the provider of the pooches what their daily timetable is like, and consider whether they will suit the person in question.

Sensory input

Many people with dementia find too much sensory stimulation can be overwhelming or unpleasant. Similarly, patients can find gentle and relaxing sensory input to be calming; and dogs can provide this extremely well (Help for Alzheimer’s Families). This is because dogs like to be petted, stroked, and played with, and all of these small actions bring some healthy sensory experience into the lives of those with dementia.

As many dementia patients find bright lights and loud noises unsettling, it’s also important to make their home environment consistent and calm. This might involve having lower, indirect or natural lighting, and keeping their home quiet.

Helping independence

One of the difficulties many people with dementia experience is losing some independence. However, with a trained therapy dog by their side, this can be somewhat alleviated. Dementia can make you nervous about going places alone, or dealing with new social interactions for example. So, having a dog trained to help them can be a real game changer.

The types of training that therapy dogs receive varies, but generally covers some everyday situations their owners might encounter; such as facilitating daily tasks and paying close attention to specific things that their owner has identified as more challenging. Having a trained four-legged friend by their side can increase confidence and give people a welcome sense of security. It can also allow them to continue some independent activities, depending on what stage of dementia they are experiencing.

Getting outside

Spending time outside is beneficial for all of us, but can become challenging and intimidating for those suffering with dementia. Having some extra encouragement can be helpful. Whether walking their dog alone or in the company of a carer, getting some fresh air can help them feel more positive. Maintaining some physical activity can be a great part of a healthy lifestyle (Alzheimers.Org).

While walking a dog is excellent exercise, even just playing with their four-legged friend can provide physical movement for patients. Activities such as stroking, playing with toys, or throwing a ball all contribute to keeping some movement in their lives.

Having a trained therapy dog can be immensely beneficial for some people suffering with dementia, so if you are considering this addition to your family, it’s worth contemplating how it might help a loved one. Dogs can bring a warm sense of comfort and security, and some social interaction to those living with this condition.