Health Guide: How Service Dogs Can Improve the Lives of People with Alzheimer’s

Service dogs can improve the lives of people with Alzheimer's disease by helping the patient complete simple tasks, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, reducing stress levels, and boosting serotonin levels. However, Alzheimer’s assistance dogs cannot do everything, and there must still be a caregiver to tend to their daily care and medical needs. Use our guide below to access free resources regarding service dogs for people with Alzheimer’s.

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Natasha McLachlan is a writer who currently lives in Southern California. She is an alumna of California College of the Arts, where she obtained her B.A. in Writing and Literature. Her current work revolves around insurance guides and informational articles. She truly enjoys helping others learn more about everyday, practical matters through her work.

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance for 10 years. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Former Licensed Agent

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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There are nearly 5.3 million Americans who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, there are millions more who are dealing with other forms of dementia. They may be suffering from memory loss, challenges with solving problems, difficulty with completing tasks that were once familiar to them, confusion about time or places, and some may not even remember their family or who they are.

Alzheimer’s disease can progress slowly or quickly, depending on the individual case. The quality of the patient’s life can change quickly as well. Some people may find that reminiscing on things from the past, like old pictures or music, can help, but for others, a service dog can make all the difference in improving their daily life with Alzheimer’s. Knowing what a service dog can do for you or your loved one with Alzheimer’s can make the decision to get one so much easier.

What Do Service Dogs Do for People with Alzheimer’s?

There are many things that a service dog can do for someone who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, but there are still limits to how much they can do. There must still be a caregiver for the patient who will be accountable for their day to day care and medical needs.

An Alzheimer’s assistance dog will be able to help perform tasks using simple commands that both the dog and patient understand. The dogs can interrupt unhealthy or unsafe behaviors that the patient may be engaging in. These dogs can act as a calming outlet for the patient when they are agitated and can be a companion during this difficult time when memory may be failing.

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Benefits of Service Dogs

There are many benefits of service dogs for people with Alzheimer’s. Patients may become agitated as the disease progresses. Some may develop unwanted or worrying behaviors when they are not in their right state of mind. Many people feel that if  a caregiver tries to stop a behavior, it will only escalate it, but the dog can effectively redirect the patient so that the patient forgets that they were agitated, to begin with.

These dogs can calm the patients down, as well. Some patients will sit and brush the dogs for hours to get tangles out of their hair, peaceful and relaxed, which is what life should be like. Even when a grasp on memory is slowly leaving the patient, he or she may remember their positive interactions with service dog long after other memories fade away.

Additionally, dementia service dogs can help keep a person with a failing memory on task in busy places, like malls or supermarkets. Many use a leash attached to the person’s wrist and the dog’s vest so that they do not get separated. This helps Alzheimer’s patients be more independent for a while longer.

It is also noted that people who have Alzheimer’s disease may become depressed as the condition gets worse. They may feel that life is no longer worth living because they cannot do the things they used to enjoy and as their memory leaves them, they may begin to experience depression. Studies have shown that service dogs can show patients with Alzheimer’s that life is worth living, even though they may not remember things that were once important to them.

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How a Service Dog Can Help at Home

Having a service dog in the home for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease can improve the quality of life for that person. As was previously mentioned, the dog can be trained to help the patient complete simple tasks, like fetching their slippers, a remote for a TV, or even the newspaper. The dog can also provide companionship, especially if they live alone. Some patients just need someone to talk to, and although the dog cannot answer back, they will be able to speak to the animal. Service dogs can be there and help to lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce stress levels, and boost serotonin levels.

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How a Service Dog Can Help in an Assisted Living Facility

Once a person has to leave their home because they are unable to take care of themselves, they may move into an assisted living facility. This may be a depressing and confusing time, especially if they have a pet that they are unable to take with them. A well-planned pet visit may be just the thing to boost their mood and bring them out of anxiety or depression. It is best for the pet to visit during the morning or early afternoon, before sundown syndrome sets in.

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Finding a Service Dog

There are many sites online that you can utilize to find a service dog for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Once you see a website that seems to fit your needs, you can apply for a dog. Most are individually trained and will come out to meet your patient before you commit to the dog. It is all about finding the right dog for your patient and situation. Many of these organizations are non-profit and the cost of the dog and their training is subsidized, although you may still be expected to pay for some part of that as well as their regular care, feeding, and veterinary costs.

Of course, some people already had pets before the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and since there is already a bond between patient and pet. With training, that dog may be able to act as a service dog.

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Caring for a Service Dog

Caring for a service dog is no different than caring for a pet. The dog will need to have its basic needs met, such as food, water, shelter, and regular exercise. It is essential that the dog also receives necessary veterinary check-ups. It is highly important for the dog to be well taken care of, as your loved one relies on it much more than you may imagine for happiness and comfort during this challenging disease.

Resources:

  • Mobility International USA: Caring for your guide dog or service animal abroad
  • The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: General dog care

Resources for Patients and Caregivers

Would you like more information? If you or a loved one have recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you may still have questions about the condition, service animals, and what to expect. Look into the resources below to learn more.

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