Assistance dogs are valued by people with early-onset dementia and their caregivers – ULaval news

Assistance dogs are not a panacea for people with early dementia or their families, but they provide services that help improve their quality of life. This is the conclusion reached by a research team at the end of an exploratory study, the results of which have just been published in the specialist journal Dementia.

This team’s analyzes are based on answers given during interviews with 56 people suffering from mild or moderate early dementia and their carers. Of these, 5 dyads had a service dog that had completed training specifically tailored to the needs of the person with dementia, 28 dyads had a service dog and 23 dyads had no dog.

“This design allowed us to isolate the effects that are directly attributable to the services provided by assistance dogs,” explains the study leader, Claude Vincent, professor at the School of Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Laval and researcher at the Interdisciplinary Research Center in Rehabilitation and social integration (CIRRIS).

The people with service dogs who took part in the study mainly suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. They were relatively young, on average 54 years old, and still living at home, but their illness affected some aspects of their lives.

“People with early-onset dementia often have problems with spatial orientation and problems with sleep quality,” explains Professor Vincent. Service dogs can be trained to address these issues, such as by walking their owners home after an outing or by exhibiting behaviors that calm their owners when their sleep is disturbed. The tasks they take on provide additional relief for the nursing staff.”

The content analysis of the interviews showed that help with spatial orientation was the number one service most frequently mentioned by people with a service dog. The role of the service dog as a socialization agent was equal.

“Socialization is an essential part of training assistance dogs,” emphasizes Claude Vincent. The fact that the dog wears a special jacket is an element that makes it easier for people who meet the owner to get started. These social interactions are important for the well-being of people with early-onset dementia. And in contrast to the companion dog, the assistance dog can play its role as a socialization agent at any time, as it can accompany its owner everywhere, indoors and outdoors.”

“Carers who needed to be away from home for work or for another reason told us they were able to do so with peace of mind thanks to the assistance dog’s presence. »

–Claude Vincent

Of course, owning a dog at home comes with several responsibilities, but the people interviewed during the study were enthusiastic about their service dog, concludes Professor Vincent. “Among other things, carers who had to be away from home for work or for another reason told us that they were able to do so with peace of mind thanks to the presence of the assistance dog.”

Professor Vincent and her team have published a summary of the study in French as well as a document for people who want to get an assistance dog. It should be noted that the cost of training these dogs can be up to $25,000.

The signatories of the study published in Dementia are Claude Vincent, Frédéric Dumont, Manon Rogers and Bertrand Achou from CIRRIS and Annette Rivard, Suzette Brémault-Phillips and Cary Brown from the University of Alberta.