Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA Mar-Apl 2014 Contents Colm Cunningham
During a recent visit to
view dementia services in
Europe, my colleagues and
I were fortunate enough
to hear more about The
Dementia Dog Project in Scotland. The
Dementia Dog Project started its life as
a Glasgow School of Art service design
project, funded by both the Scottish
Government and the Design Council.
A collaboration between Alzheimer
Scotland, The Glasgow School of Art,
Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs
UK, it brings together the teams'
expertise in dementia care and the
provision of trained assistance dogs.
The project aims to prove that
dogs can help people with dementia
maintain their waking, sleeping and
eating routine, remind them to take
medication, improve confidence, keep
them active and engaged with their
local community, as well as providing a
constant companion who will reassure
them when facing new and
Following the successful
completion of a research stage,
and having secured additional
funding, Dementia Dog has
embarked on its first small-
scale pilot scheme, based at
the Guide Dogs for the Blind
training facility in Forfar,
Scotland with two dog places
and two further in training. The
training costs around $38,000.
The project team has
recruited people with dementia and
paired them with a specially trained
assistance dog, placing them in the
person's home with full training, support
and evaluation. To be eligible to have a
dog, the person has to have a diagnosis
of dementia and be in the early stages of
dementia, live at home with either family
or a full-time live-in carer in the Angus
area of Scotland.
Although the pilot is running for
one full year, the dog will be supported
people with dementia and their carers.
His wife Isobel, who had dementia, had
not spoken for the last five months. She
no longer showed any facial expression
and seemed to be in a world of her own.
With great trepidation Malcolm
brought Isobel to the group.
To begin with Isobel appeared
agitated and just sat and stared as the
singing got underway. Slowly her hand
started to tap her thigh, then she moved
her body, then she began to make some
humming noises. By the end of the
session Isobel was singing and smiling.
The next morning she woke up and
said to her husband 'I think we should
bake a cake today' and they did!
It would be foolish and wrong to
pretend that music always leads to such
My experience is that this is not
uncommon, but even small changes are
to be valued. Even if the person with
dementia forgets that they were singing
soon after the event, this does not negate
its worth. They will still feel good, even if
they cannot remember why. People with
dementia live much in the moment so
we should try to make as many of those
moments as possible good ones. Music
undoubtedly achieves this.
We know that singing and listening to
music can make us feel happier. If you are
not using music either as something to
listen to, dance to, or sing along to, then
people with dementia are being deprived
of a wonderful, core human activity that
will enrich their lives. n
Diana Kerr is a practitioner and educator
in the field of the care and support of older
people. She is an associate consultant of
The Dementia Centre, HammondCare.
Australian Ageing Agenda's regular
dementia section is guest edited
by Colm Cunningham, director of
HammondCare's Dementia Centre.
For further information, email
The Dementia Dog
Project is at an
early stage, but the
potential benefits for
people with dementia
and their families are
to remain with the client for its full
working life. The Dementia Dog Project
is at an early stage, but the potential
benefits for people with
dementia and their families are
significant. The addition of two
new dogs will provide more
data on what a dementia dog
can mean for a person with
dementia and their carers.
For more on the Dementia
Dog project, go to:
Associate Professor Colm
Cunningham is director of the
HammondCare Dementia Centre.
www.australianageingagenda.com.au | 53
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