Dog Heroes Help People With Dementia Live Better Lives

After being diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (EOAD) at age 57, Rick Phelps was given an Exelon patch and a directive to make a follow-up appointment with his neurologist in six months.

That’s it—that’s all modern medicine could offer a man whose world had been unceremoniously upended by a terminal diagnosis.

Alzheimer’s disease has no cure, no effective treatment, and there are few resources to help families deal with the crushing effects of increasing cognitive impairment.

Fortunately for Rick, unconventional intervention would come a few months after his devastating diagnosis; in the form of a furry, four-legged savior named Sam. The spry German Shepard is a member of an elite squad of service dogs specially-trained to assist people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Unlike therapy dogs that assist blind or physically disabled individuals, these so-called “psychiatric service dogs” are patterned after police K9s—conditioned to analyze a situation and make decisions on how best to protect their human handlers.

Trained by only a handful of organizations, dementia service dogs are capable of providing both functional and emotional support for their cognitively impaired handlers. The ability of these canines to help those who are struggling with Alzheimer’s and other dementias can rival (and sometimes exceed) the capabilities of other human beings.

“I can’t go inside you and feel your feelings, smell your smells, feel your brainwaves—but a dog can,” says Bob Taylor, a world-renowned trainer of working dogs and founder of Dog Wish, a non-profit organization that specializes in training service dogs for individuals with neurological conditions.

Bob was part of the team that trained Sam. He says a canine’s keen senses are capable of picking up on important (often invisible) cues that human beings can’t detect.

Exploring the other side of Alzheimers

The incredible bond that Rick and Sam share is highlighted as part of a larger story called Fade to Blank: Life Inside Alzheimer’s (www.fadetoblank.org) that explores the “human” element of Alzheimer’s, through the eyes and in the words of three families affected by the disease.

The stigma of Alzheimer’s tends to silence those touched by the disease. But with no medical antidote to the epidemic appearing on the horizon, some are fashioning a different kind of remedy, spun from their very own, real-life stories of tragedy and triumph.

By sharing their experiences, these inspiring individuals support and educate one another in a collective display of human empathy unmatched by any benefit concert, fundraiser or government initiative. They exist as living proof that people whose realities have been forever altered by Alzheimer’s still have stories to tell.

fadetoblank.org – Fade to Blank: Life Inside Alzheimer’s

By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor

145 comments

Debbie Miller
Debbie Millerabout a year ago

Thank you so much for this information. I wonder if they would use these dogs for people with mental health issues other than dementia.

Beverly C.
Beverly C.1 years ago

Thank You So Much For Sharing This Article/Information. --I will, certainly, share it with many others.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Kate S.
Kate S.2 years ago

Love it. Amazing animals

Carla van der Meer

Fascinating, thanks.

Karen S.
Karen S.2 years ago

What a wonderful program!

Joy T.
Joy T.2 years ago

YAY for therapy dogs!

John S.
Past Member 2 years ago

Interesting.

Mary L.
Mary L.2 years ago

great article, I am so glad that people are willing to train such wonderful friends!

Beverly C.
Beverly C.2 years ago

People need to realize that dogs aren't "just dogs", any more than we are "just humans"!! There are SO many misconceptions concerning the canine species. I've heard many say "dogs can't think" or "dogs can't reason"...well THIS just goes to prove what I've said all along--->they DO have the ability to do just that! These particular ones are trained to actually "analyze" situations and make "decisions"...how wonderful is that?

I just pray for the day when all this obvious "proof " of canine abilities becomes public knowledge all over the world and they are treated with the respect they so deserve! Many known scientists have already proven this through MRI studies of the canine brain (studies that did NOT involve any harm to the dog, by the way). I truly believe when that does happen, we will finally be able to get stronger animal abuse laws passed as well as more appropriate penalties for those who commit such heinous crimes as that!!

SOME states already have animal abuse as a felony, which should be in all states, with more adequate jail time and fines! It's time for ALL lawmakers to realize the importance of more strict abuse laws; child abuse, spousal abuse, elder abuse and yes-->even animal abuse---->PERIOD!