Sunday, January 25, 2009

54. Alzheimer's Support / Alert Dogs

Alzheimer's Alert dogs are dogs that are trained to help the caregiver but also provide emotional support and companionship to the person suffering from Alzheimer's. In some cases, they can also lead a disoriented person home.

Some common tasks they are trained to do:

*Stay near the person with Alzheimer's Disease and interact with them for companionship.

*Alert the caregiver (usually a family member) when the person is on the move. For example, if the person gets out of their chair or out of bed, the dog goes and gets the caregiver to prevent wandering. The dogs are trained in the same way hearing alert dogs are. One specific sound the chair makes as the person stands up becomes the cue for the dog to run for help. It would be considered a 'one way alert'. If the dog needs to take the caregiver to the person, it would be called a 'two way alert'. If this occurs at night, the dog will also need to wake the sleeping caregiver.

For our sound alert video examples: replace the alarm clock sound with the chair squeaking the floor or the person's feet hitting the floor. The dog runs and find the caregiver and gives the trained alert and brings the caregiver back to the person with Alzheimer's disease.

*Since people with Alzheimer's also lose their sense of smell and do things that might cause them harm (such as burning food, overloading washing machines etc), the dog's noses can be used to alert the caregiver to these smells. Pair the scent of food burning in the microwave, or the burning rubber of a washing machine with the alert behavior and add distance from the caregiver. Train a two way alert so the caregiver knows where to go. Some dogs do these alerts naturally and their technique (alert behavior) can be refined.

*Push or nudge the person with Alzheimer's away from doors. If alarms are on the doors, go get the Caregiver.

*Remind the caregiver to help person with Alzheimer's take their medication.

*They can be trained to guide the person home if they become disoriented. (Walking is a key way to decrease the need to wander). The "Home" cue has the dog lead the person safely home, navigating obstacles etc.

The temperament of a Alzheimer Support/Alert Dog is key as they must be very social, high play drive, yet calm enough to lay for hours by the side of the Alzheimer's person. They must also be resiliant to the rapid changes of mood displayed by some people with Alzheimer's.

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