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Dogs Help Australia’s Elderly

Research into the effects of canine companions on residents in aged care facilities looks like having a major impact on the way dementia patients are treated. 

What place do dogs have in reducing the effects of this debilitating disease? 

With a rapidly ageing population, dementia is predicted to be the leading cause of disability in Australia within 8 years, resulting in many people living with memory and attention loss. As well, there will be a corresponding decline in language skills, and increased feelings of insecurity and vulnerability. 

The benefits of having a pet are well-documented. Jackie Perkins, PhD student at the Centre for Companion Animals Health, UQ, wanted to help dementia patients. Jackie’s research, generously funded by the Wicking Trust, is examining ‘how dogs can have a therapeutic effect on dementia sufferers’. She has developed questionnaires to better understand the relationship between people in aged care facilities and therapy dogs. 

One person declared “While I had Golly on my lap, I didn’t feel the pain in my hip” and another, “While I was stroking Lady I felt the pain in my leg go”. Even those whose previous experience with dogs had not been positive showed signs of overcoming their reluctance – asking to be included in the trials to play with and pat the dogs. The dogs, Golly, Lady and Rinnie, responded with the warmth characteristic of these adoring pets. The residents also formed close relationships with other members in their trial group. In this way, they regained some of their lost communication skills. 

Current medical treatment for dementia is largely ineffective. The success of this project would mean that dogs could become part of accepted therapy in the palliative care of elderly Australians and contribute to improving their quality of life.

Source: Centre for Companion Animal Health, University of Queensland