'Dementia Dogs,' Trained To Help Elderly, Begin Service in Scotland

By iScienceTimes Staff on July 15, 2013 2:12 PM EDT

service dog
The Dementia Dog Project trains dogs to assist their elderly owners by reminding them to take their medication, among other things. (Photo: Flickr: pmarkham)

An elderly man in Scotland is among the first recipients of a "dementia dog," as part of a new program for the elderly.

Kaspa, a yellow labrador, is one of the first dogs in the United Kingdom to be certified a dementia dog. Like a service dog to the blind, Kaspa performs certain activities to keep his dementia-suffering owner safe and healthy. Ken Will, 79, Kaspa's owner, was diagnosed with vascular dementia three years ago.

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As part of his duties, dementia dog Kaspa retrieves Will's medicine when an alarm goes off, wakes up Will and his wife, Glenys, and ferries items between the couple.

"Kaspa is the best thing that's ever happened to us," said Glenys. "We can go shopping and the dog will sit with Ken. I don't need to worry about him. We're both more relaxed."

And while Glenys is out at work, she is now able to leave a note for Ken and be sure that his dementia dog pal will force him to read it.

"If I need the oven on, I'll leave a note beside the alarm in the kitchen. When the alarm goes off Kaspa nudges and nudges Ken until he's glad to get up. It's just amazing."

Kaspa is one of the first dogs trained as part of the Dementia Dog Project, a project which originated at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland and secured funding from the Scottish Government and the UK Design Council.

Kaspa and Oscar, the only other dementia dog "working" in a home so far, began training as puppies. They were taught by volunteers how to be well-behaved, then moved on to a specialized center, where a program run by Dogs for the Disabled trained Kaspa and Oscar.   

"For 25 years we've been training assistance dogs for physically disabled adults and children and more recently for children with autism," said Helen McCain, director of training at Dogs for the Disabled. "This new project has provided us all with an opportunity to bring together our skills and experience to help with a different kind of challenge."

Following the success of Kaspa and Oscar, two more dogs are being trained in the dementia dog program.

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