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Guide Dogs for the Mind: dogs trained to give dementia suffers a new life

Dementia Dog is an exciting new research project, which aims to discover the impact a pet dog can have on a person with dementia. The project is a collaboration between Glasgow School of Art, Alzheimer Scotland and Dogs for the Disabled, with expert advice from Guide Dogs UK. It has received funding from the Design Council and the Scottish Government.
Dementia DogUnder the Dementia Dog project, dogs will be trained to respond to an alarm that goes off whenever a person who is struggling with memory loss needs to take medication, remind people to take their tablets, raise the alarm in an emergency and help out around the home. 
Dogs will also be trained to help people undress, open cupboards, drawers, fridges and washing machines, flick light switches and fetch medication.
Animals can be taught to recognise a specific movement that their owner would make when in distress. The dog would then either press an emergency button on a telephone or bark loudly to raise the alarm. Dogs will undergo 6 month training program using positive reinforcement techniques.
So far the project has been given £52,000 of Government funding, but needs to raise a further £130,000 to launch a Pilot Scheme later this year. Eventually, it is hoped the initiative will allow many more of the 750,000 Britons who suffer from dementia to retain their independence for longer. If the scheme developed by Alzheimer Scotland, gains funding, it will be the first time that dogs have been used to assist those with dementia…
‘We’re really hopeful the dogs will not only be a huge practical help but also provide great emotional support. People with the condition can easily become isolated and the dog will be a constant companion, which will help them to keep social.’  Joyce Gray – Alzheimer Scotland
Four students at Glasgow School of Art came up with the idea after Alzheimer Scotland challenged the college to suggest an innovative way to improve the lives of dementia sufferers. The concept was pitched to the Design Council, which in partnership with the Department of Health was offering funding for projects that helped those with early-stage dementia.
The Dementia Dogs scheme has now gained the backing of charities Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs, which already provide dogs with similar skills to help those with physical disabilities.
The number of people with dementia is set to hit one million by 2021 and 1.7mil by 2050. It’s believed that 6 out of 10 people with the condition are undiagnosed.