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Dementia Dogs

Dementia Dog Kaspa helps Ken and Glenys Will with everyday activities. (©HEMEDIA)

Elderly dementia sufferers are now able to benefit from the use of assistance dogs. A Labrador Retriever and a Golden Retriever have become the first dogs in the country that are trained to look after dementia patients. The two dogs, Kaspa, a yellow Lab, and Oscar, a Golden Retriever, are part of the new Dementia Dog project in Scotland. These dogs have been taught to help their owners by responding to alarms and bringing them medication pouches.

The Wills have been married for over 40 years and both were diagnosed with dementia over three years ago. They were recently given an assistance dog to help with their day to day activities. "To some it might look like we've just got a new pet, but it's no word of lie to say we've got our life back now we have Kaspa," explains Glenys Will. She says that her husband Ken use to get very angry and aggressive but now seems to be a lot calmer since Kaspa came into their lives. "Kaspa is the first thing he sees in the morning and he will bring a toy to Ken straight away and it just lightens the atmosphere from the beginning," she says.

Maureen Benham, 69, was also diagnosed with dementia and had become very dependent on her husband Frank Benham until Oscar came into their lives. "Maureen and I can't imagine going back to what it was like before we got Oscar," says Frank Benham.

The project was created by students at Glasgow School of Arts and was developed by Alzheimer Scotland, Dogs for the Disables, and Guide Dogs Scotland last year. The dogs spend their first year with experienced volunteers learning to be well-behaved and well-mannered young dogs. When they are over a year old, they will move into a specialized training center where they are taught their new duties.

"For 25 years we've been training assistance dogs for physically disabled adults and children and more recently for children with autism," explains 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." The program has been so successful that another two puppies have started training to join the program.