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The Best Dogs for Dementia Patients

By Rebecca Schier-AkameluMay 11, 2022
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You may have seen service dogs helping the visually impaired, but did you know they can also help seniors with dementia? As your loved one’s disease progresses, a service dog can significantly improve their quality of life, offering comfort in times of emotional distress, safety in the event of wandering, and support in moments of unfamiliarity.

It’s important that your loved one have a strong connection with their four-legged companion. Some breeds are more adaptable and trainable than others. You’ll also want to make sure the dog’s temperament and energy levels are a good match with your loved one.


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Service dogs for dementia

A service dog is more than a pet. They’re trained to work with one person and perform tasks related to a specific disability, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Service dogs can be trained for a wide range of tasks over several months of training.

Service dogs differ from emotional support animals because they’re trained to mitigate the effects of a disability, including memory loss. An emotional support dog offers help for a person’s mental well-being, but cannot mitigate the effects or symptoms of dementia.

Service dogs for dementia patients often need to work with the person’s caregiver, too. They can be trained to follow commands from the caregiver as well as their owner. As dementia progresses, a caregiver will likely take the lead on giving commands and providing necessary care for the dog. 4 Paws For Ability and Dog Wish are just some of the organizations that train service dogs for dementia.

The following are examples of the helpful tasks service dogs can provide:

  • Reminding someone to eat or take medication when memory loss has caused them to forget
  • Blocking doors to prevent someone from leaving home alone and potentially getting lost
  • Tracking someone who has wandered due to their restlessness
  • Guiding someone back to their home if they become lost or confused
  • Helping someone keep their balance as their equilibrium becomes affected by dementia
  • Redirecting when someone experiences emotional distress during challenging moments, such as sundown syndrome

Since dogs are creatures of habit, they can always be there to make sure your loved one sticks to a familiar routine.

Best dog breeds for dementia patients

Any dog breed can be a service animal, provided that they can carry out the tasks they are trained to do. Whether you’re looking for a service dog or a family pet to provide comfort, these are the best breeds for someone with dementia.

Pugs

Pugs, pictured here, make for one of the best dogs for those with dementia.

These dogs tend to be in tune with their owner’s emotions, and they enjoy staying close to people. Short, smooth coats mean pugs are relatively low maintenance, but they may need help to stay trim and fit.

Schnauzer

Schnauzers, pictured here, are one of the best dog breeds for those with Alzheimer's or dementia.

Schnauzers are highly intelligent, making them fairly adaptable and easy to train. They are also generally pleasant around people. Schnauzers also shed very little, which means they shouldn’t add too much to a cleaning routine. Also, the range in size between miniature schnauzers and giant schnauzers makes it easy to find the right size for your loved one.

Cocker spaniel

A golden cocker spaniel trots through a green field. They are one of the best dogs for dementia.

A long, silky coat and an affectionate nature make cocker spaniels easy to love. Note, though, that this breed requires near-daily grooming, and this could present a challenge for seniors with memory issues. Also, cocker spaniels’ long ears can be prone to infection if not kept clean.

Boston terrier

Alert to its surroundings, this Boston Terrier, shown here, makes for one of the best service dogs for dementia.

This dog is friendly, alert to its surroundings, and easily trained. The Boston terrier’s cute, black-and-white coat coupled with its jaunty step make this breed hard to resist.

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Shih Tzu

This Shih Tzu is one of the best dog breeds for dementia patients thanks to its friendliness and small size.

If you’re looking for a small dog, Shih Tzus are a wonderful option. Shih Tzus’ affectionate and playful nature can make them great lap dogs. Their long coat will require frequent grooming, however.

Golden retriever

One of the best dogs for dementia thanks to its intelligence and loyalty, this Golden Retriever pants joyfully.

You may have seen a golden retriever working as a service dog, and for good reason. This intelligent breed is easy going, trainable, adaptable, and friendly — all the characteristics you want in a dog.

What to consider before adding a dog to your loved one’s life

Before you move forward with adopting a pet or applying for a service dog, consider your loved one’s current needs. Their familiarity with animals, stage of dementia, and current living arrangements may affect this decision. You should also be mindful of whether your loved one will move to a memory care community.

Some memory care communities accept pets, and others do not. Even though the ADA states that service dogs can be admitted to many locations where dogs are typically not allowed, the handler needs to be able enough to control and care for their dog. Many people with dementia rely on a caregiver to help control their service dog. So, unfortunately, this arrangement is unlikely to work after moving to a memory care community.

It may be possible for your loved one to keep a pet in their care community if you can identify a person there who will care for the dog, feed it, and take it on walks. This decision will likely differ from one community to the next, as the culture varies across communities. However, instead of allowing for personal pets, many memory care communities provide regular pet-therapy sessions where animal friends visit regularly. Some communities even have on-site therapy dogs that live there to comfort and support the community staff and residents.

If dog ownership is not right for your loved one, consider pet therapy sessions. Your loved one’s life may also be enriched with other therapies:

If you feel your loved one may need more advanced care, where all of these therapeutic options may be available in one place, it may be time to consider long-term memory care at a senior living community. In this case, A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors can help. At no cost to you, these knowledgeable advisors can find a local care solution that’s right for your loved one’s specific wants and needs.

Sources

Coren, S. Memory assistance dogsModern Dog.

U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. (2015, July 20). Frequently asked questions about service animals and the ADA. ADA.gov.

U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (2020, February 24). Service Animals. ADA.gov.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or to create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. The recommendations contained herein are based on the opinions of the author. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

Author
Rebecca Schier-Akamelu

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