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Dog training organizations across the country are now taking orders for highly skilled “dementia dogs.” These dogs are individually trained to meet the needs of persons with memory loss problems. They provide safety and companionship. They also relieve the anxiety of family caregivers.
To support a person with dementia, dogs are trained to help with
- memory and routines. Keeping to a daily regimen helps people with dementia function independently for longer. A trained dog can provide reminders to take pills or eat meals.
- safety. A dementia dog can recognize unsafe situations. For instance, it might cue your family member to turn off the water or the stove. If wandering is a problem, the dog can serve as a door sentry. And if your loved one does wander, the dog can find him or her by scent.
- physical activity. Having a dog companion can prompt your family member to take walks, but you won’t have to worry about their getting lost. Some dogs are even trained to help with balance and the physical aspects of walking.
- mood and companionship. Dogs are remarkably intuitive. They can calm an agitated person and comfort someone who is sad.
Families report great relief with the presence of a dementia dog. Caregivers can sleep through the night, for instance, knowing the dog will wake them if there’s a problem. The dog can provide his or her loved one unconditional attention 24/7 in a way that no family member can. Plus, a dog’s friendly presence helps buffer tensions and provides a distraction for everyone in the household.
When choosing a dog, what’s most important is the fit between the need, the dog’s ability, and the trainer’s philosophy. Check out the Pet Partners directory to learn more about the many dementia dog training organizations.
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When your relative lives far away, a holiday visit may reveal disconcerting changes.
And once you’re home again, distance makes everything more challenging, from knowing what’s needed, to getting tasks accomplished. Here are some tips.
Stay in touch. This is a win-win. You stay current on issues, and your relative gets the emotional boost.
- Use the phone, email, and/or Web-based video calls. Connect at different times of day to see what’s up. Is mom sleeping a lot? What’s on the table at dinnertime?
- Ask about any injuries or falls. This information is important but may not be volunteered.
- If your relative lives alone, consider having him or her give you an “I’m up!” call or text by a preset hour.
Plan ahead. When visiting, use your time wisely. Do things with your family member that are just plain enjoyable. But also
- go to medical appointments. Get to know the providers. Ensure that releases are signed so that you can talk with the doctors as needed.
- address housekeeping issues. Fix potential hazards, such as loose rugs, rickety stairs, and burned-out light bulbs. Check for signs that regular help is needed, such as garbage or laundry piling up.
- get into the kitchen. What is in the refrigerator? In the cupboards? Scorched pans may indicate your relative is forgetting to turn off the stove, a common sign of memory problems.
- check the desk. And ideally, scan the checkbook. Is the register in order? Any overdue notices?
- connect with the neighbors. And/or nearby close friends. Give them your contact information.
Stay organized. At your home, keep a binder up to date with documents essential to healthcare and money management. (See our December 2013 article, “What you need to know.”)
If you believe that help is needed, offer ideas instead of mandates. Insist on change only when safety is in jeopardy.
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Researching health treatments online
For those facing an incurable condition, the Internet can seem to be the last refuge of hope. But how can you distinguish a trustworthy website from that of a huckster? “Follow the money” is an important key for deciding if a website is truly unbiased. Start by asking yourself who, what, and why.
Who. Whose site is it? Websites cost money. Who is paying? Check the “About Us” page. If the source of money is not obvious, use “Contact Us” to ask, “Who are you and how do you get your funding?” Keep that funding in mind as a possible source of bias.
What. What kind of information is provided?
- Is it a research-based news article? Does it cite research done in university or government studies? Is there mention of “randomized clinical trials”? These are the gold standard of science.
- Is it a blog? Is it one person’s opinion, or are other sources included? What are the author’s credentials? Are they reliable?
- Is it a forum (or “chat room”)? Anyone can speak in a forum. Such chat rooms offer a wealth of practical tips for day-to-day coping with side effects. But they are not reliable sources for evaluating the success rate of treatments.
- Is it really just a sales piece? Does it make claims about a treatment sold by the sponsor? If so, review multiple sources and look for promises that are backed by credible research as described above.
Why. Does the website identify its purpose? Government and university websites typically have a mission to educate. The websites of nonprofit organizations usually weave education with advocacy. A for-profit company is not automatically suspect. Many generously share their expertise through educational articles. Simply use caution if they ask for your personal information or if the talk turns to specific treatments that they themselves sell.
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