Guide dogs for the mind to fight dementia

Animals will help Alzheimer's patients remember their medicine and steer them through the day

They already guide blind and disabled people; now dogs are to be trained to help people with dementia. The duties of these "guide dogs for the mind" will include reminding their owners to take medication, as well as encouraging them to eat, drink and sleep at regular intervals.

The dementia dogs will be trained to respond to sound triggers in the home that prompt them to perform tasks. These could include delivering a bite-proof bag of medicine with a note inside reminding the patient to take it, or waking them up in the morning.

The idea was developed by design students at the Glasgow School of Art and will now be put into practice by Alzheimer's Scotland and Dogs for the Disabled. Labradors and retrievers were used to develop the project, and four will begin training soon in Banbury.

The first dogs will be assigned to four Scottish couples in September, where one of the partners is in the early stages of dementia. Some 670,000 people in Britain have dementia and one in three over 65s will develop the condition. By 2021 this is expected to rise to one million.

Alzheimer's can make people confuse night and day or forget basic things such as washing or drinking enough water. The dogs would be trained to help to guide them through the day, encouraging them to open cupboards which would contain food for the animal alongside a note to the owner to feed themselves, or guiding them to the bathroom where another note would remind them to wash.

Joyce Gray of Alzheimer's Scotland said: "People in the early stages of dementia are still able to live a relatively normal life, and dogs help to maintain routine."

The other advantage of using the pets as companions is that conversation can be increasingly confusing for people with Alzheimer's, but dogs can give them a sense of silent support and companionship. Ms Gray said: "The anecdotal evidence we have is that people may forget familiar faces but not pets. It's such a strong bond that people often remember them longest. People light up when they see animals. They don't need to communicate verbally but they can still interact. You can have a speechless bond."

The concept is one of five new ways to help people with memory loss that will be announced on Thursday as part of the Prime Minister's National Dementia Challenge. Funded by the Department of Health and the Design Council, the challenge is designed to make the country a leader in research and care for the condition. Helen McCain, director of training and development at Dogs for the Disabled, said: "There are gizmos on the market to remind people to take medicines, but they have to then go and look for a medicine box and might forget to complete the task, whereas if a dog presents them with a bag with pills in it there's a greater chance of them taking it."

She also said dogs were ideally suited to prompting owners to eat. "Dogs have an ability to say 'it's my feeding time'," Ms McCain said. "There would be a note in the cupboard next to the dog's food reminding them to eat too."

The dog would also encourage the owner to take them out for walks, making sure they keep exercising and interacting with other people. "It forms an anchor for the person and a reason to go out into the community," Ms McCain said. "We did a test with an elderly person walking down the high street on his own. Then we gave him a dog on a lead and he did the exact same walk. That time people would come up to him and chatting or smiling and making eye contact. We hope we'd see this with clients with dementia too, keeping them engaged with the local community."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Two christmas trees ,Moonbeam (2L), Moonchester (2R) and Santa Claus outside the Etihad Stadium
footballAll the action from today's games
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas