An elderly couple in Scotland now “have their lives back,” according to the Independent, after they were partnered up with Kaspa, a two-year-old Labrador, who is the first dog in the U.K. to receive special training to assist dementia sufferers.
Three years ago, Ken Will, 79, was diagnosed with vascular dementia, and his wife, Glenys, took on the role of caregiver. It’s been hard going.
“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,’” she told the Independent.
Ken relied on his wife for everything, but now, with the addition of Kaspa, the couple has been given a reprieve. The dog has a number of duties around the house, such as fetching medicines when a reminder alarm goes off, waking up his owners at the proper time, and ferrying items between them.
Plus, Kaspa is great at just bringing the level of stress down a notch.
“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. I’ve got a good bit of him back again,” said Glenys.
Dementia dogs can also prompt social experiences, such as when the pair are out on a walk.
“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.”
Ken described the first shopping trip, saying he was “tensed up” before the dog brushed against him and looked up.
“The stress just left,” he said.
While Glenys shops, the dog can stay with Ken, and Glenys doesn’t have to worry about him.
Interestingly, the Dementia Dog project got its start from a group of product design students at the Glasgow School of Art, which created an interesting take on “the ability to redesign experiences” above and beyond “the traditional domain of material manufacture,” according to the program’s director, Gordon Hush.
The project received aid from Alzheimer Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled, and Guide Dogs Scotland, as well as with funding from the Scottish government and the UK Design Council.
Oscar, a two-year-old Golden Retriever, is following in Kaspa’s footsteps. He’s been placed with Maureen Benham, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and her husband, Frank.
“Maureen and I can’t imagine going back to what it was like before we got Oscar,” said Frank.
“Before we had the dog, I did get frustrated,” he told BBC Scotland. “But the dog acts as a buffer between you. If it works out, eventually, down the line, it will be a normal thing for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia to have a dog. I think it will be a fantastic achievement.”
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