Assistance Dogs can be valuable companions and helpers for seniors who are facing the diverse challenges that can come with growing older. Just the companionship and connectedness that an animal offers can be deeply valuable for seniors’ mental health, but Assistance Dogs can also help some seniors to perform tasks and can also work to keep them safer and more at ease at home and out in the world. In exploring the many different roles that Assistance Dogs can fill in seniors’ lives on top of just being a friend and companion, we can see that Assistance Dogs have a lot to offer seniors as they continue to grow older.
Types of Assistance Dogs
Assistance Dogs can fill a whole bunch of different roles and provide a diverse array of different services and supports for people facing specific challenges related to their neurological, physical, or mental health, and can also just be wonderful partners and friends. The list of roles and jobs that Assistance Dogs can fill and perform continues to grow, so let’s explore some of the different types of Assistance Dogs that help to enrich the lives of people of all ages, including seniors.
- Allergy Detection Dogs: With more and more people suffering from allergies, a new category of medical Assistance Dog has become available. Allergy Detection Dogs are specially trained to smell major allergens such as nuts and alert their human companions.
- Diabetic Alert Dogs: Diabetic Alert Dogs are trained to alert their humans to important changes in blood-sugar. These highly-trained dogs can detect these changes in blood-sugar through scent in a way that is impossible for humans to do on their own. After an Assistance Dog has alerted their human, blood-sugar can be tested and measures can be taken to get things under control before it becomes dangerous, such as an insulin injection or eating something to raise blood-sugar. In many cases, these dogs can also signal for medical assistance should it become necessary.
- Guide Dogs: These wonderful dogs are able to help blind and visually-impaired individuals navigate the world by guiding them around obstacles, helping them move through both pedestrian and car traffic, and stopping at cross-walks and curbs to check for safety. Humans direct their Assistance Dogs through directional commands, while the dogs check for safety and make adjustments to account for the environment and changing events.
- Hearing Dogs: Hearing Dogs assist those who are hard-of-hearing or deaf by alerting them to important noises and sounds. These dogs can inform their humans when the doorbell or phone rings, when a child is crying or calling, when a smoke alarm is sounding, or other similar sounds. When the dog hears a sound, they will touch their human and indicate where the noise is coming from.
- Mobility Assistance Dogs: Mobility Assistance Dogs can help support individuals with mobility issues by bringing them objects and items, helping to navigate and pull wheelchairs when necessary, or pushing buttons for automatic doors and elevators. With the help of these dogs, people are more able to maintain greater independence.
- Psychiatric Service Dogs: Filling a whole host of different roles depending on the individual circumstances of their human companion, Psychiatric Service Dogs can provide support to people dealing with things like anxiety, depression, and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These dogs can help their human companions to feel safer and more at ease both at home and out in public among other people.
- Seizure Alert and Response Dogs: Seizure Alert Dogs are intended to pick up on signals that a seizure is about to occur in order to alert their human. Seizure Response Dogs are trained to support and aide a person experiencing an epileptic event, which is different from predicting the seizure before it happens. These dogs can signal or call for help with alarms or barking, and can get their humans to a safer place and help as the seizure comes to an end.
Assistance Dogs for Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Along with the many incredible roles listed above that Assistance Dogs can fill in people’s lives, one that is especially relevant for many seniors is the jobs that Assistance Dogs can perform for people with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. As seniors start to encounter more challenges and obstacles as a result of Alzheimer’s or Dementia, specially trained Assistance Dogs can help to provide help and support. Along with being friendly and beloved companions, these Assistance Dogs can help seniors to function better in light of changes with capacities related to recognition, memory, language, and other new challenges that come as part of Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Assistance Dogs for people with Dementia and Alzheimer’s can carry out tasks such as:
- Being constant company and making sure their human doesn’t wander off
- Guiding their human back home should they become lost
- Having a calming or grounding effect
- Helping with daily routines by waking their human up, and reminding them to do things like get dressed, take medications, prepare food, and other personal care tasks
- Providing mobility assistance and support
- Providing stimulation for mind and body
- Signaling for help should an incident occur
The ways in which Assistance Dogs enrich and improve the lives of those to whom they provide service and companionship are as varied and diverse as the people and dogs themselves. One common theme that runs through every relationship between an Assistance Dog and their humans is that they are loyal and hardworking friends who dedicate themselves to bettering people’s lives in important ways that help to foster independence, comfort, happiness, and confidence.