Amazing Dog Trained To Help People With Dementia 'Has Given Them Their Life Back'

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A couple dealing with dementia say they have been given their lives back thanks to their pet dog.

Two-year-old golden labrador Kaspa is one of the first dogs in the UK to receive special training to assist people with dementia and is bringing relief to Angus husband and wife Ken and Glenys Will.

Mr Will, 79, was diagnosed with vascular dementia about three years ago and Mrs Will, 66, took on the role of carer.

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The Arbroath couple are benefiting from a link-up between Alzheimer Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs Scotland which began last year.

Kaspa has been trained to fetch medicines when a reminder alarm goes off, to wake up Mr Will and to take items between him and his wife.

It is not just the animal's practical skills that have improved their lives - Kaspa has also helped relieve stress and allowed the couple to get out of the house.

Mrs Will said: "Kaspa has totally given us our lives back. Ken is much happier because he's got the dog and we can go out now. We can go shopping together, we can even go on holidays.

"We are a lot more relaxed since the dog came because if Ken gets in a mood and angry, the dog comes and nudges him and he forgets his problems.

"It's absolutely great, like a big weight lifted off my shoulders. The first time we went shopping you could feel the stress go."

Mr Will said: "I was tensed up and after two or three steps he just brushed against me and looked up as if to say, 'am I doing OK?' and the stress just went."

His wife added: "We've been married 48 years but often I've sat and looked at him and thought, 'I don't know who this person is' but now I've got a good bit of him back again."

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The team behind the project say that having a dog provides a reason to go out for regular walks in the park together, meet people and stay connected to the world.

Carers find they spend less time giving reassurance to their partner because the dog gives a "calming" new focus for the person with dementia.

Joining Kaspa in the project is Oscar, a two-year-old golden retriever who assists another Arbroath couple, Frank and Maureen Benham. Mrs Benham, 69, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.


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Mr Benham, 74, said: "Maureen and I can't imagine going back to what it was like before we got Oscar."

The Dementia Dog project was born at Glasgow School of Art (GSA), the idea of product design students. It got off the ground with funding help from the Scottish Government and the UK Design Council and looks set to roll out further.

Another two dogs have already begun their training.

Gordon Hush, who heads GSA's product design programme, said: "Dementia Dog sees graduates extending their skills beyond the traditional domain of material manufacture into the generation of experiences that improve the quality of life of both carers and those with dementia.

"The ability to re-design experiences is a significant challenge and one that these young designers have risen to in an extraordinary fashion."

Helen McCain, training director at Dogs for the Disabled, said: "Oscar and Kaspa have settled in well to their new homes and are already making an impact on the lives of their new partners.

"This new project has provided us with an opportunity to bring together our skills and experience to help with a different kind of challenge. We really believe that the dementia assistance dog could make a significant contribution to the Government's national dementia strategy."

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.

"Supporting people with dementia and their families to live well with the illness requires innovative and imaginative approaches and the Dementia Dog team have brought all this and more to the project."

Logan Anderson from the Guide Dogs Scotland training school in Forfar said: "Our change-of-career guide dogs contribute invaluable work with other assistance dogs charities and 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."

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