An Alzheimer’s Patient’s Best Friend

*Published with Guest Blogger’s permission: By Josh Matthews

An Alzheimer’s Patient’s Best Friend

Dogs are most commonly known as man’s best friend. However, some specially trained dogs can be a man’s best caregiver. Specially trained dogs such as therapy and service dogs help people with depression, PTSD, blindness, and other disabilities. Dogs have also proven to be beneficial to patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Service Dogs vs. Therapy Dogs

Service Dogs

A fundamental difference between a service dog and a therapy dog is that service dogs are specially trained to perform tasks and make life more independent for its owner.  Service dogs also have special privileges to enter public places such as businesses, stores, and restaurants. These dogs are upheld to certain standards such as those detailed in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Service dogs are also chosen because of their temperament, intelligence, responsibility and discipline.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs are different from service dogs in that they are not granted legal privileges to enter public areas. They are not specially trained to perform tasks to aid their owners. Therapy dogs are meant to provide comfort, affection, and relief to people burdened with stress or trauma. They frequently make hospital visits, and interact with patients by allowing them to pet them or just simply by sitting by their bedside. However, therapy dogs are also held to certain standards. Potential therapy dogs must pass a rigorous program that involves passing the ten step Canine Good Citizenship Test (CGC), and receiving certification from the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Benefits of Therapy Dogs for Alzheimer’s and Other Dementia Patients

Therapy dogs have especially proven to be useful for patients with dementia.

  • Therapy Dogs can easily turn the day of an Alzheimer’s patient around by relieving their frustration and confusion with the use of their trained ability to provide comfort, warmth, and love. 
  • Dogs, as well as being capable of infinite understanding, are also very capable of complex, rational thought processes. These thinking skills allow dogs to respond to the forgetfulness and the intentions of Alzheimer’s patients.
  • Therapy dogs can additionally remind of their intended tasks, and even remind patients to take their medications.
  • With special training, therapy dogs could serve in assisted living facilities. Many assisted living facilities do not allow for pets, however more and more communities are beginning to realize the benefits of pet therapy.

A study by the San Diego Humane Society’s Pet-Assisted Therapy program shows that patients after pet therapy have greater social interaction, improved appetite, cognitive stimulation, and generally a more positive outlook on life.

Sit and Stay Instruction Together (SSIT) Alhzeimer's Houston Texas Early Stage Sit Stay

Sit and Stay Instruction Together (SSIT) is a free dog obedience program offered by professional dog trainers through our partnership with Sit Means Sit. The program is designed for early-stage individuals, their dog, and a care-partner or friend.

“This program gives individuals with Alzheimer’s and caregivers the chance to create a stronger bond with their pets” stated Gitzell Perez, Early Stage Specialist. “It was also great to hear that participants were feeling a sense of purpose and self-worth while enjoying a new activity.”

The Alzheimer’s Association offers beneficial Early Stage Programs as well as a 24 hour helpline at 800-272-3900.

Pet therapy has proven to be an effective treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias. “A pet is a medication without side effects that has so many benefits. I can’t always explain it myself, but for years now I’ve seen how instances of having a pet is like an effective drug. It really does help people.” – Dr. Edward Creagan, Oncologist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN

The aid and presence of man’s best friend can turn the day of an Alzheimer’s patient around for the better.

AlzTex Admin

The Alzheimer's Association Houston & Southeast Texas Chapter (www.alz.org/texas) consists of families, caregivers, scientists, health professionals, and concerned citizens who are committed to finding a cure for Alzheimer's Disease and to easing the burden of Alzheimer's Disease and related disorders on patients and their families and loved ones.