Dementia dogs lead the way

Two dogs specially trained in Tayside have become the first in the UK to help people with dementia.

Kaspa and Oscar have “given lives back” to two Angus couples as part of a pilot scheme which could soon be rolled out across the country.

The project, from students at Glasgow School of Art’s (GSA) product design department, aimed to investigate how a dog could benefit those with early-stage dementia.

Developed with Alzheimer Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs Scotland, the scheme has seen the two canines trained to offer practical help around the home.

In March this year, Oscar, a golden retriever and Kaspa, a labrador, completed their training and went to live with Arbroath couples Frank and Maureen Benham and Ken and Glenys Will.

Both dogs have been trained to fetch medicines when a reminder alarm goes off, can bring household items to their owners and can be trained to wake a person.

Glenys, 66, said: “Kaspa has given us our lives back,” while Frank, 74, added: “Maureen and I can’t imagine going back to what it was like before we got Oscar.”

The programme, funded by the Scottish Government and the UK Design Council, has been such a success a further two dogs have already begun their tuition.

Oscar was withdrawn from guide dog training and passed across to the Dementia Dog project, while Kaspa came straight from the Dogs for the Disabled socialisation scheme.

As puppies, they spent a year learning behaviour and at just over a year old they moved to the Guide Dogs Training Centre at Forfar.

Staff from Dogs for the Disabled in Oxfordshire were brought in to carry on the training.

The group’s director Helen McCain said: “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.”

Joyce Gray, deputy director of development at Alzheimer Scotland said: “Dementia Dog has had a truly wonderful impact on the families involved and Alzheimer Scotland is delighted to have been part of this ground-breaking project.”

Logan Anderson, Guide Dogs Scotland Forfar Training School manager said: “The Dementia Dog pilot has shown not just how the dogs have provided practical benefits to those living with Alzheimer’s but also the mood-enhancing and emotional benefits as well.

Gordon Hush, GSA product design programme leader, added: “The ability to redesign experiences is a significant challenge and one these young designers have risen to in an extraordinary fashion.”