A Labrador and a golden retriever – named Kaspa and Oscar – have become the first dogs in the country to look after dementia sufferers. The pair has been drafted in to help Ken Will, 79, and Maureen Benham, 69, who were both diagnosed with dementia three years ago.
As their conditions have deteriorated, their dependence on respective partners Glenys Will, 66, and Frank Benham, 74, has increased – until now.
Thanks to the new Dementia Dog project, Kaspa and Oscar, both aged two, can now support Mrs Benham and Mr Will by listening for a set of alarms which tell them to do specific tasks.
Kaspa and Oscar – who moved into the homes in March – know to carry out certain tasks when they hear the sounds.
The dogs are able to pull off a duvet to wake up the person, bark, and nudge the person.
But one of the most important tasks is to respond to an alert which informs them to pick up a pouch with medication in it and take it to their owner.
Mrs Will, from Arbroath, Scotland, who has been married to Mr Will for over 40 years, said: ‘The results have been unbelievable – we’ve got a lot more from this than we ever expected.
‘To some it might look like we’ve just got a new pet, but it’s no word of lie to say we’ve got our life back now we have Kaspa.
We are going out so much more with the dog and meeting so many new people. We don’t have to lock the door to keep Ken inside now.
‘The condition has had a big impact on our lives. Ken used to get very angry and aggressive but when he sees the dog he forgets about all his problems and has a smile on his face.
‘Kaspa is the first thing he sees in the morning and he will bring a toy to Ken straight away and it just lightens the atmosphere from the beginning.
‘Kaspa is also great with nudging Ken every now again to stop him falling asleep, so it helps him keep a lot more active and happier than he did before.
‘He will also bring Ken his medication whenever the alarm goes off, so it means I don’t have to be there all the time to look after him.
‘People just don’t understand how hard it is living with someone who has dementia. But this scheme has really worked and I hope it can be rolled out across the world.
‘Every morning I would get up and think to myself “I wonder what problems today will bring?”, but not anymore, we’re so much happier.’
Mr Benham added: ‘Maureen and I can’t imagine going back to what it was like before we got Oscar.’
The project was the brainchild of students at Glasgow School of Arts and was developed by Alzheimer Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled, and Guide Dogs Scotland last year.
After the successes of Kaspa and Oscar, another two puppies have started training to join the programme.
They spend their first year with experienced volunteers, learning to be well-behaved and well-mannered young dogs.
At just over a year old, they will move into a specialised training centre, where they learn their new duties.
Helen McCain, director of training at Dogs for the Disabled said: ‘For 25 years we’ve been training assistance dogs for physically disabled adults and children and more recently for children with autism.
‘This new project has provided us all 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.’