Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dementia Service Dogs, Pros and Cons

Changes. The one thing dementia patients don't do well with. Every dementia patient has a routine. Even if you don't realize it, they do.

Could be something as small as always sitting at the dinning room table in the same chair, or always drinking out of the same cup, perhaps it's putting their socks on before their pants.

Little things. But these little insignificant things, to the patient keep them grounded. Why? Because we don't do changes well.

It has to do with we are comfortable with what we know how to do, things we have done for decades. Anything new thrown into the mix and it can cause chaos.

Daylight savings time is a great example. It can throw anyone into confusion, imagine what it does to the dementia patient.

The best thing to do as a caregiver to cope with routine is to let it happen. Don't expect or ask the patient to do something they are not familiar with or comfortable with.

I need to know for example if we are going to do something well in advance. In other words, Phyllis June knows not to come home from work and tell me we are meeting someone for dinner.

I have to prepare myself for such a thing. Why? Because I have dementia and the disease makes me this way.

Surprises don't work around here. I have to know exactly what is going on, when and where. I will always forget, but I have to know and be reminded. Because, again of the disease.

The subject of service or therapy dogs has come up on Mp several times in the last few days, and this is very important when it comes to changes.

In my opinion, as a patient, a service or therapy dog is something that has to be introduced to the patient very early on. It's very difficult to get your loved one a dog of any kind in the mid to later stages of this disease.

As intelligent as Sam is, he needed direction for the first couple of weeks. He needed to learn my routine. Which he did in a matter of days.

The problem with service dogs is not the dog, it's the patient. Sam's biggest problem is not doing something he should, it is me letting him do other things.

This will happen. All the training in the world will come down to what the patient allows the dog to do.

I told the trainer in the very beginning of this journey with Sam, that he needed to be trained so that I would not have to work with him.

And, thankfully Sam is. I don't have to get him to follow me, or keep his attention on me. He does this, and has since the very first time we met. He has never left my side.

I did get Sam very early on. And that was the key. You can't expect a dementia patient to work with a service dog to get him to do what he is already supposed to do.

This is where many trainers, handlers, make their mistake. They will tell you that the new owner has to work with the dog. That I can tell you doesn't work.

One of the very first things that is forgotten when getting a service dog is that the dementia patient, the new owner of this animal, has no short term memory. When you get your dog, most trainers will say we need three days for you to train with him.

That didn't work with me, and it won't work with your loved one either. Fist off, their routine I spoke of just went out the window. They now have a four legged animal that will or should be with them 24/7. And they are expected to work with the dog? Not going to happen.

That in itself takes some getting used to. Then even the smallest things, things you never think of happen. The most aggravating thing about having a service dog has nothing to do with their training, the handling of the dog, or any of that.

The most difficult thing is how others do around the dog. Family, the general public when out with the dog is very difficult.

Every time we go anywhere, Sam has his vest on which clearly states he is a working service dog do not pet. Which means nothing to most people.

I have to hear at least ten stories every time we go anywhere about other peoples dogs, how they died, how they act with them, how they look so much like Sam...and on and on.

Parents let their kids run up to Sam, which is very dangerous. Sam does not do running, or approaching me like that. That alone puts him on high alert. Which puts me on high alert, and the stress ensues.

We live in a small community and most everyone around either knows me, or knows of Sam. We have been on the front page of the paper with stories about Sam many times over the years and you would have to be living under a rock not to know about Sam and I.

Every interview I have ever done with Sam I have pointed out he is not a pet when out in public. He is working. He doesn't take his eyes off of me and what is happening around the two of us. Its what he was trained to do and does this very, very well.

When we are at the camper for example, he is a pet.When we are at home, he is a pet. He plays like any other dog would, but he never, ever gets out of eye sight of me. Ever.

The very thing a dementia patient wants to stay away from is being the center of attention. And a service dog does just the opposite. They make you the center of attention.

You would think no one has ever seen a service dog in Red Lobster, or Lowe's, or McDonalds. It doesn't matter where we go, we hear the same story.

They want to know what he does for me, and tell me their life story about the dog they have or had.

This again is very stressful. Imagine going to Walmart and having to deal with this in every other isle. Parents letting their kids reach out to pet Sam, even adults just walking up and sticking their hand out, all the while he has his vest on saying, working dog, do not pet.

Service dogs are wonderful. And I wouldn't trade Sam for the world. But they do create a great deal of stress. The dog doesn't, its the people around him that do.

If you are contemplating on getting a service or therapy dog for your loved one, make sure they understand what is going to happen. This isn't something you want to surprise them with.

Sam has done more for me than all the meds I have taken. He takes my stress level from a 12, to a 3. It's what we have to deal with, with the general public that is the issue.

And most times no trainer will tell you this. And this will cause havoc and chaos to a dementia patient. Not to mention throw them completely off of any routine they had before getting the dog.

Something to think about. Service dogs are a wonderful thing. But they are not for everyone. And the patient cannot be responsible for continuing training of the dog.

That simply won't work. We are dementia patients. We have a brain disease. We are not dog handlers, or trainers. Remember that before embarking on this.

A highly trained service dog can run in thousands of dollars. Well over six to eight thousand is not uncommon to pay for a fully trained service dog.

Do your homework. Work with a trainer at least in your state, or as close to you as possible. Keep constant contact with how the training is going. And get references. This is a huge thing, not to be taken lightly.

We have a dedicated page to learn about Sam and how he came into our lives.  There is where we discuss about service dogs, the in's and outs of owning one and what have you.

As always, Mp is for Support and Awareness. Not everyone can afford a service dog, or has any desire to own one. I wanted to give you an insight on this. For any lengthy discussions, please join Sam's Place, on Facebook. One of our Admins can get you added.

© Rick Phelps 2016