A new class of service dog can help people with dementia

An incident on his bike caused John Wood to take a service dog. Suffering an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease at 46, Wood, a lifelong teacher, artist and avid biker, came back from hearing his wife sing in church when he disappeared. It was night in suburban Detroit, and he suddenly lost his appetite.

But when he asked for help from the people sitting on their balconies, they hesitated. The tree is 6’3 and 240 lbs. “I’m this giant scary person who asks people a weird request,” he said.

Finally, another cyclist helped him to the police station. “I was driving home in the back of the police car,” he said. “It was a horrible experience with incomprehensible and incomprehensible people.”

After hearing this story, Wood’s doctor announced, “John, you need a very cute constant companion: a service dog. If you have a friendly dog ​​with you, people will see the dog.

That’s exactly what happened when Wood was paired with Ruby, a long -haired Chihuahua.

“One of the things about Ruby is she’s always nice, she’s gorgeous … people stop their cars and ask what kind of dog she is,” he said of Ruby, who has been with Wood and his family for seven years. .

He also performs important tasks. Wood has a weakness, which can come suddenly. Ruby helped with that.

“He noticed when I was about to lose a sigh,” she said. “The more time we spend together the more we get to know each other, and if I need help he’ll flirt.” People came to help him where they hadn’t cared for him before.

See also: ‘They’ve been in these pets for years’: People leave the family dogs they adopted before the pandemic, mostly because of inflation, residents say

Train your service dog

Mark and Brenda Roberts of Alma, Michigan have always been dog lovers. But a few years after Mark was diagnosed with vascular dementia in his early 60s the couple decided to buy and train a service dog.

Mark, now 70 years old, knows something. No Labrador for him. She wanted a dog to sit on her lap, a ball of fur that she could grab. The couple chose a Bichon Frize puppy, named Sophie, and began a new relationship.

The couple met a local dog trainer and asked him to help them train Sophie. Brenda says they went this route, instead of buying a fully trained service dog, because they wanted to participate in the training themselves and get to know the dog from a young age. .

They also want to save money. Buying a fully trained service dog can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service dog as a person who performs tasks for a person with a disability, tasks that directly help that disability.

Sophie is trained to track Mark through the smell, in case he disappears, but her daily task is to get her medicine out of the bathroom cupboard. Every night at 8:30 p.m., the couple’s Alexa device will announce, “Sophie, get it” and Sophie will go to the bathroom to get Mark’s medication.

She also carries a GPS which, since Mark and Sophie are never separated, told Brenda, who still works full-time, where Mark is. He continues to drive on local roads and is often seen at McDonald’s, MCD,
+ 0.95%
at church or at the dog trainer.

Both Brenda and Mark say there are less tangible benefits as well. For Brenda, it was a joy to train Sophie and to love her.

“It’s like a kid, a common project to do,” he said. “We bathed at night, we healed him, we trained him … it gave us a non-dementia-related activity to do together.”

Mark agrees: “It brought Brenda’s life back to life,” he said. “It gives us something to interact with other people. We met many interesting people and dogs.

Also, however, Mark said that being with Sophie all day not only relieves her anxiety and gives her companionship, but helps her straighten her thoughts. He always worked with his hands, but became more difficult as his dementia progressed.

“If I have to make something out of wood, I’ll talk to it and give it dimensions and things, and writing it down will help me not write down the wrong dimensions,” he explains. “[By addressing Sophie] it doesn’t leave me right away.

Lily: Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: how to recognize and prevent them

“A unique and new kind of service dog”

Helping dogs like Ruby and Sophie are amazing.

According to Chris Diefanthaler, Executive Director of Assistance Dogs International, “dementia assistance dogs are a unique and new type of service dog”. Of all the members of his organization around the world, only a few claim to have trained this type of service dog.

In the United States in particular, this is an area that few people know about.

Jennifer Lutes is the Associate Director of 4 Paws for Ability in Xenia, Ohio. She says dementia assistance dogs are her new area of ​​training.

“We adapt the need according to the circumstances. One of our volunteers contacted us to adopt a dog for his wife with dementia. The organization has made three placements in the past two years.

Lutes says the actual cost of training a service dog is between $ 40,000 and $ 60,000. His organization, funded largely through donations, paid the client $ 20,000. He says many families collect money for their dog through crowdfunding campaigns.

It takes a year and a half of training to prepare a dog for laying, and Lutes says their journey will begin when they are young.

“Dogs go through a health and behavior program to participate in [training] program… the puppies will go home with a volunteer trainer, and they will learn socialization and good manners. They are given this standard for advanced training, ”he explained.

Lutes said he was sometimes approached by an adult child who asked about the option of a dog to help a single parent living. Lutes told them that any service dog for someone with dementia should receive orders from a live-in caregiver, as well as the person with dementia. A dog cannot replace a human caregiver.

He offers another caveat to anyone considering a service dog: “Dogs need care, time and energy,” he says. “If you’re too stressed for that thing, a dog might not be right for you. A dog also needs to practice his skill. Sometimes people don’t realize it. They see a dog in public. and it was polite to the public, and they did not know what it took to get there.

Also on CNET: How old are you “too old” to be president?

A bridge to the outside world

But Lutes agrees with Brenda Roberts that a service dog can be a huge benefit, and not just for someone with dementia.

“From my perspective, Sophie doing things for Mark means it’s a little something I have to do as a caring partner, and from her perspective, she’s independent, “said Brenda, adding that her husband is also more social than otherwise. .

Read also: What dogs can teach us about life and death

John Wood says his Chihuahua Ruby also provides a bridge between him and the outside world. His presence captures friendly comments and makes him even more confident when traveling.

“You hear about Alzheimer’s and people think you’re spitting on a chair,” he said. “But there is a way to share who we are. We don’t have to hide and have service animals and this partnership allows for regular activities that would not be possible for me otherwise.

When Wood rides a bike these days, Ruby is tied to his chest.

Ashley Milne-Tyte is a freelance journalist based in Long Island. He has a background in radio and reported his first stories to seniors while working at Marketplace, the public show business radio. He has since written and hosted the podcast Tight stitching, an eight-part series about caregivers. He is also the creator and animator of Extensive experience, a podcast about women and work. You can find it at ashleymilnetyte.com.

This article is reproduced with permission from NextAvenue.org© 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

More from Next Avenue:

Leave a Comment