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Tiffany the greyhound shows how they help people with dementia

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Boronia   

 

Calls for more 'pet therapists' as Tiffany the greyhound shows how they help people with dementia

Updated January 30, 2018 06:56:52

 

Being showered in affection by a four-legged friend can make almost anyone smile, but its perks go far beyond that for some.

As research continues to show the extensive benefits of "pet therapy" for people with diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's, volunteers and psychologists are calling for more long-term care facilities to partner up with organisations that provide this service.

Alana Wade has seen firsthand how regular visits with her greyhound Tiffany have changed the lives of residents at Jindalee Aged Care Residence in Canberra's south.

She volunteers with Delta Society, a nationwide charity that is one of the few providing pet therapy in the capital.

"When people [with dementia] have their off days, pets can trigger them to come back to where they are and come back to reality, which is really nice," Ms Wade said.

"Tiff is really good at picking people who are not very well, so when we walk around I normally take Tiff's lead and she takes me to people that are stuck in bed or not feeling very well that day.

"She's very in-tune."

 

Alana Wade and her dog Tiffany with a resident at Jindalee nursing home.
 

 

Ms Wade's pet therapy journey started when her animal-loving dad was diagnosed with cancer. Ms Wade thought about how seriously he would miss animals if he spent a long time in hospital.

"Thankfully he made it out the other side, but the experience taught me there are a lot of people in the same boat, and so I looked into organisations and we decided to join Delta," she said.

"A lot of people have had to give up their pets to be here, so having a dog come in absolutely brightens their day."

Jindalee's health and leisure coordinator, Richard Cummins, said visits from Delta Dogs gave some secluded residents something to look forward to.

"Some have become very isolated in their rooms, so the Delta dogs really break up that isolation," he said.

"Just seeing how it can change their lives and make them so happy and lives so fulfilling, it's a very fulfilling job."

This was exemplified by the beaming faces of several women as Ms Wade and Tiffany enter the Jindalee tearoom.

"How nice of you to visit," one woman said as she handed Tiffany a treat.

"Aren't you beautiful," another lady complimented.

 

Delta Society volunteer Alana Wade with her greyhound Tiffany, standing with a Jindalee resident.
 

 

Visually-impaired Jindalee resident Claire Smith moved to Canberra several months ago and said Ms Wade and Tiffany's company is the best part of her day.

"I don't know anyone here except the nurses, who are absolutely beautiful, so it's really wonderful being able to see Tiffany," she said.

"When you're here on your own it's really nice to get that visit."

Lower blood pressure and serotonin release among benefits

Research shows the benefits of pet therapy are wide-reaching. Not only do they include providing a sense of comfort, confidence and companionship, but also a number a medical benefits.

A new Australian-first study is examining how assistance dogs can help people with younger onset dementia, by sensing mood, tone of voice and anxiety.

University of Canberra psychologist Vivienne Lewis said this comes down to the strong olfactory response of canines.

 

Alana Wade and her dog Tiffany sitting with a Jindalee resident.
 

 

"They can actually tell when someone is distressed, when someone is in pain, when someone is ill, and they can actually help that person go and get help," Dr Lewis said.

"People with dementia have quite significant memory issues and are usually disorientated and easily distressed, so the dogs offer stress relief, lower blood pressure, serotonin release and keep the person physically active.

"They can actually make a really big difference."

In the most intense levels of pet therapy, a dog can even help someone with dementia tap into repressed memories.

But Dr Lewis pointed out that the biggest impact occurs when the dog is around all the time — obviously an unrealistic expectation in places like nursing homes.

That is why she wants to see more pet owners getting their furry friends assessed to potentially offer therapy, and in turn help more people reap the benefits of regular visits.

"We know that one-off visits can help people relax and offer stress relief at the time, but with any therapy it needs to be ongoing to have that long-lasting effect," Dr Lewis said.

 

Alana Wade sits in a chair as therapy dog Tiffany lies on the ground.
 

 

Ms Wade, who is one of the few volunteers who visit Jindalee and can only get there on weekends due to full-time work, could not agree more.

"This is honestly the best thing I do in my whole life," she said.

"I must admit some weekends I feel like doing nothing and I am so tired… but I come here and I'm so glad that I do.

"I think we're lucky in Canberra because we have an amazing community, but we really need to give back to that community. And seeing how Tiffany changes people's lives really makes it all worth it."

While not every dog can offer pet therapy, Delta Society can provide information on the assessment process.

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Tassie   

Before Delta was around, the Guide Dogs down here had a program where owners took trained pet dogs into facilities like nursing homes - especially the dementia units.   I used to visit a couple of facilities with my 2 dogs at the time .. doing about 45 minutes each dog, cos yes it is tiring for the dog.  I was working full time, so we used to go on Saturday mornings in that gap between morning tea and lunch.  It was lovely to see the responses from some of the people .. they enjoyed petting the dogs and watching them do tricks .. and they would tell you about dogs they had owned or known in the past.  I also did therapy visits at a palliative car unit, where not only clients but relatives would really enjoy the visits.  

 

Some funny stories though .. like the lady who would usually say when I went with the dog into the big lounge ..."I don't like dogs"  My answer would always be "That's OK Doris, I won't bring the dog near you.   Then every now and again, as I would be staying away from Doris, I would hear her say "Aren't you going to bring the dog for me to pat?".. and she would happily be petting the dog.   As a handler, you quickly learn to just go with the flow. :laugh:

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asal   

 there is a uni in Canberra who has dismissed therapy animals from coming to campus to interact with stressed students,

 

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-02/university-brings-petting-zoo-to-calm-students-during-exams/9111504

 

apparently the animal libbers convinced the board they were exploiting the animals. So it has been discontinued.

 believe it or not.

 

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