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Caregiver Follow MeHow You Can Train Your Own Alzheimer's Assistance Dog In Your Own Home
By Patti Putnam
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Patti Putnam
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAn Alzheimer's Dog
What Is an Alzheimer's Assistance Dog?
An Alzheimer's dog lives at home with an Alzheimer's patient, their caregiver(s) and other family members. This is an inside dog as opposed to those unfortunate canines that are regulated to spending their lives physically apart from their family units, residing outside of the home, receiving minimal human love and contact. The Alzheimer's dog is trained to watch over the patient, especially at night, and alert the chief caregiver if the patient gets up. The dog is trained to identify an imminent "wandering" situation, alert the caregiver by making physical contact with them, lead the caregiver to the location of the patient, and to then go into a "down/sit stay" position in order to act as a distraction to the patient. The dog is a warm, fuzzy partner, helping the caregiver give the best possible care to the Alzheimer's patient. With wandering under control, the patient can often remain within the family; the caregiver gets an ally and a night's rest. Home usually provides a more positive environment than that found in an institution; weather a group or nursing home. Financially, it is much more feasible to keep an Alzheimer's patient in their home. Therapeutically, the home environment is usually more positive for the patient than living elsewhere.
An example of an Alzheimer's dog in action would be a beautiful, female Border Collie mixed mutt that was adopted from an animal shelter just hours prior to being put down. The dog was adopted, trained, and then placed with a family where the chief caregiver was wheelchair-bound; the Alzheimer's patient was her husband. After the dog's placement, late one night the wife was jarred awake by the dog, which insisted that she get up and follow it. The dog led the caregiver to the kitchen where there were flames leaping from the gas stove. Thankfully, the caregiver was able to get the potential fire under control before the entire home was set ablaze. Reviewing that night's activities, the caregiver reasoned that her husband had risen from bed while she slept, gone to the kitchen to make something to eat, turned on the gas stove and left it unattended. The Alzheimer's dog had gone into action as trained to do, and had alerted her to the danger. Because it took longer than usual for the caregiver to transfer into her wheelchair from her bed, the flames were dangerously high by the time she made it to the kitchen. The caregiver and I were deeply grateful when we realized what could have been.
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Benefits to Having an Alzheimer's Dog
Alzheimer's dogs provide both economic and therapeutic benefits. The Alzheimer's dog enhances the quality of life and gives therapeutic benefits to both the patient and family members. A dog can stimulate a patient back into reality, improve his or her physical functioning, and act as a catalyst for increased interaction with others. The dog works for the patient, caregiver(s), and all family members.
When Alzheimer's dogs provide nighttime care for their Alzheimer's patients (alerting for imminent wandering) a definite cost savings accrues relative to alternatives such as hiring "awake" help for nighttime hours, or placing patients in residential care facilities. The loving surveillance provided by these specialty dogs expands the options for the patients' care and contributes to the patients' quality of life.
Alerting for possible wandering situations so that caregiver(s) can get some sleep.
Dogs can bring patients back to reality.
Prior to being introduced to his dog, one patient refused to dress, speak, and perform daily hygiene tasks. He wore his pajamas, was not shaved, and had become very lethargic. During the dog's first preplacement visit with the family in their home, the patient refused to come into the room because there was a stranger (myself, the trainer) present who had come with the dog. The patient was observed, during the second visit, to continue refusing to physically enter the room where the stranger and the dog were, but he paced back and forth in the hallway, getting a glimpse of the dog each time he passed the open doorway. Upon the next visit, having been told that "his dog" was coming to visit, the patient actually dressed and did enter the room, choosing to sit in the chair closest to the doorway. The following visit found the patient grunting to the stranger, but conversing in sentences to "his dog." For the next visit, the patient was dressed, bathed, shaved, and waiting in his chair for "his dog" to come visit him. Subsequent visits found the patient conversing with "his dog," but also with the trainer. We all laughed when the patient explained to us that this dog was being trained to help him, to watch over him, and was going "to snitch" on him if he did something wrong.
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Dogs keep the patients occupied by sitting by their side, allowing the caregivers much needed time to accomplish other household chores and a reprieve from repeatedly hearing the same stories. Dogs are wonderful listeners. They do not care how many times they've heard something. Most dogs bask in the one-on-one attention the patients shower on them. Dogs can keep their patients occupied for long periods of time and eliminate the question that many Alzheimer's patients repeatedly ask: "What should I do?"
It was not unusual to see the Alzheimer's dog quietly sitting beside her patient's rocking chair, as the patient serenely sat and stroked the dog's head and told her stories from her past. The caregiver was absent from the room, running the household. What was amazing was the fact that, previous to the dog's arrival, the patient would become very agitated if the caregiver was not constantly in the same room. With her dog beside her, both the patient and the dog wore looks of contentment. The dog was completely oblivious to hearing the same story zillions of times. It was a "sponge," absorbing the patient's loving touch- something that this little stray had not had in her life. Found in late winter in a ditch, dripping wet, starved and bleeding, this little lady had not known much except survival. Things were different now; both dog and patient were receiving unconditional love from each other, both benefiting.
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In bed, the dogs can calm patients by insisting that their patients give them attention. Dogs reduce stress levels and make it possible for patients to sleep. When the patients fall asleep, the dogs should be taught to get off the bed, but continue to be ever vigilant to potential wandering.
When patients can no longer verbally communicate, they can reach out physically to "talk to their dogs" and smile.
As the dog's patient slipped further into the disease, the dog herself became much more subdued, very careful not to be overactive when her patient was around. She molded herself to what her patient needed. When first placed, the dog had been somewhat exuberant, very quick in her actions. Only on special occasions was she allowed up on the bed. However, as her patient withdrew from the world, the little dog would calmly sneak up onto the bed and lie quietly, their bodies touching side by side. Unable to communicate with people, the patient would reach out and stroke her dog's head. The two of them spent many hours in this manner. The caregiver acknowledged that it was very comforting, not only to her mother, but also to herself. She was watching the little dog break through the invisible barrier and lovingly communicate with her mother. Her mother was not alone, which meant a lot to the caregiver.
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Patients will interact with other people because of their dogs. When they can no longer initiate conversation, they can respond to questions that people ask about their dogs.
A residential Alzheimer's dog visiting its placement for the first time caused several staff members to break down in tears. When the dog went up to a male patient who had not spoken in years, the man reached out and started to handle the dog's leather lead. Touching the leather, he immediately began telling the staff how to craft leather equine harnesses. Not only was the patient speaking, but he was accurately putting sentences together! None of the staff knew that in the gentleman's past he had been an accomplished leather craftsman. The leather lead had triggered his memory. The dog worked 8-hour shifts daily and, like her "mom," would then go home at night. The staff learned how to use the dog's presence to help their patients initiate and respond to verbal conversation. The dog could stir past memories and, overall, became a catalytic agent-a therapeutic tool for the staff to use to benefit their Alzheimer's patients.
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The dogs give people and professionals a subject to talk about with the patients.
One Alzheimer's dog demonstrated utility when her Alzheimer's patient became frailer, advancing into the disease. Verbal communication with humans was difficult and the patient would no longer speak to other people. However, she did continue to talk to her dog. The caregiver and doctors used the dog to facilitate her health care. The patient could no longer verbally communicate with her doctors, but she was able to answer the doctor's questions if those questions were about her dog. In this manner vital information was elicited from the patient. Having the dog with the patient in the doctor's office would calm the patient throughout the entire appointment.
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Dogs can act as "welcome mats" and icebreakers. This is especially true when friends and relatives enter the world of dementia to visit loved ones. A warm, furry dog greeting them upon arrival helps lessen anxiety and gives them a positive topic of conversation.
Dogs can break the impasse when patients do not want to do a task, such as take a bath, eat, or go somewhere in the car. It is possible to humor patients by talking to their dogs. Humor can move mountains-and feisty Alzheimer's patients.
Dogs are naturals when it comes to providing surveillance over their patients. They literally become loving sentinels.
Dogs provide the additional benefits of keeping the patients calm and occupied, which is an enormous benefit for the caregivers.
After the patient's death, a dog can help caregivers and family members with their grief. The dog gives companionship and unconditional love to all in their family. Likewise, the dog benefits from the devoted family members, too, when they lose their patient. A mutual grieving process ensues. Each is able to comfort the other.
Caregivers benefit from their dogs' love and vigilant attention. The dogs reduce stress levels.
Another Alzheimer's dog watched over its special patient for many years without incident, the dog growing old and the patient regressing into the disease. The dog developed its own health issues. And yet, when the Alzheimer's patient would fall, the dog never hesitated to respond and immediately go into action. The dog would go to the caregiver, get her attention, and lead her to the patient. This happened not once but several times as the patient's mental and hysical health deteriorated. The dog was happy and content in its work, knowing that it could do its job.
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Chapter TwoBefore Starting Sound Awareness Training
1. Prepare Your Home
Make sure that you have food and water bowls, a dog bed, dog food, grooming tools including a nail trimmer, a collar with an ID tag on it, and safe canine toys. I recommend that you buy Nylabones and Kong toys. Experience has taught that both the Nylabone and Kong products will not harm your dog. Toys with squeakers in them can be eaten by your dog and are potential health hazards. Toys that only have one hole in the end of the toy are very dangerous because the dog can get its tongue in the hole and, without another hole in the toy, its tongue can be sucked into the toy with grave results. Be careful with "tug-of- war" toys as they can encourage aggression in dogs, which is not a good thing. Rawhide products tend to be eaten too quickly and can become lodged in dogs' throats. Also, the dogs tend to guard rawhide products zealously, so if there is more than one canine around fights can occur.
You should monitor the condition of any toys to make sure that the dog has not chewed them into something that could cause harm. The same is true of the Nylabone products; once the dog has eaten the bone down, both ends can become sharp and dangerous. Dispose of any toys that present a hazard. Constantly monitor your home for any foreign objects that might be present and within reach of your dog. Rubber bands can inadvertently wrap around paws, cutting off blood circulation, and paper clips can be eaten or poke eyes. Stray staples can be eaten or imbedded in paws. The bubble-popcorn packing material can be ingested and become lodged within the dog's digestive system, causing a real threat to the dog's welfare. Certainly items such as needles must not be left lying about. Dogs are like children; they are curious about their environment, and you must diligently play the role of responsible parent.
Dog bed should be the correct size for the dog and be washable.
Dog food should be of good quality. Your dog is a "working dog" and needs to be fed a good-quality food. Both the quantity and quality of food that your dog eats will make the difference in its health. Obesity is a very real problem with working dogs. Remember that your dog is not just your pet; it is going to be your partner, so don't give in to the temptation to overfeed it. Make sure that you never feed your dog "people food"-except for training purposes. You will be facing a unique problem with your dog and your Alzheimer's patient. Your dog will quickly learn that the Alzheimer's patient is going to go out of their way to sneak it food. Watch out. Monitor for this at all times. Keep it under control. During human mealtimes, place the dog by your side (away from the patient) in a "down stay." (See page 47.) If this fails and the patient can still sneak food to the dog, simply remove the dog from the room during meals. You might also want to consider vitamins and antioxidants for your dog.
Water that is clean and fresh must be readily available to the dog at all times, free choice. The dog's water bowl should be washed daily without exception.
Dog grooming tools should be selected based upon your dog's size and type of hair coat. Is it long or short, double-coated with a layer of down-like hair under the topcoat, or perhaps curly like a poodle? Don't be hesitant to ask questions of friends who have dogs, veterinarians, groomers, and store clerks. They can help you choose the correct grooming tools. Do not forget to purchase a good-quality nail trimmer and find out how to trim your dog's nails. It saves you money and is yet another activity that you and your dog can share together to help build trust. Introduce the nail trimmer and the process of nail trimming gradually to your dog. Start slowly, perhaps just playing with its paws, and then progressively introduce the nail trimmer and the actual act of cutting the nails. If you should clip too close and draw blood, apply a blood-stanching material (purchased where you bought the nail trimmer) and do not make a big thing out of it to your dog. Say you're sorry, give your dog a hug, and go on. Don't make your dog neurotic.
Collar and lead (leash) should be of good quality. These items are important when you are teaching basic obedience and for keeping your dog's manners up to speed. The leash should be at least 6 feet in length and the material should be soft. Do not use a chain or rope. I recommend leather. If you keep the leather in good condition it is going to last you a lifetime and will be soft and supple in your hands. The collar should be the correct size for your dog. Check periodically to make sure that your dog has not outgrown it; that it is not too tight or frayed. I do not recommend a studded collar because it gives the public the wrong image of your dog as an aggressive, macho canine. When you are out in public, you might feel more confident as the dog handler and be better able to keep your dog in control, if you also have the dog in its correction collar, instead of its regular identification collar. The correction collar will remind the dog that it must be well-behaved making it easier for you to manage. However, try to find some place on the dog for an ID tag that won't interfere with the correction collar.
Correction collar (not the dog's regular identification collar) is necessary in order to teach your dog basic obedience. After your dog has learned obedience, the correction collar will act as a reminder to your dog that you are still the one in control and calling the shots. There are several types of correction collars on the market today including, the metal link collar suitable for short-coated dogs and the pronged collar that is used on heavy long-coated dogs. There are also collars on the market that look like muzzles; one brand is Gentle Leader. Dogs such as Greyhounds need a very soft collar. There are pros and cons to each of the types. If you are enrolled in an obedience class, ask your instructor to review each of the collars and identify their strong and weak points. Whatever collar you select, be sure that it fits your dog, that you have it on your dog correctly, and that you know how to use it appropriately. If you do not have access to an instructor, then get professional advice from someone who is "in the know."
Excerpted from Caregiver Follow Me by Patti Putnam Copyright © 2012 by Patti Putnam. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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