You’ve probably seen people in your community with service dogs, but chances are you’ve never considered one for your loved one. While these specially trained canines are known for helping the blind, they can also be trained to help others with disabilities. In fact, they are being paired with seniors who need extra assistance more frequently today than ever before.
Who Needs These Dogs?
Most people are familiar with guide dogs for people who are visually impaired or legally blind. For seniors with glaucoma or other vision-limiting conditions, these dogs can be of great benefit. Other types of service dogs for seniors include:
- Hearing or signal dogs for the deaf;
- Walker dogs trained to help their handler maintain a better sense of balance; and
- Mobility assist dogs who aid in daily tasks, fetch needed items, open doors, and even pull a wheelchair when necessary.
In some countries service dogs are being trained to work specifically with elderly patients, although this is not yet common in the United States. Scotland, for example, is training dogs to work with dementia patients. This is part of a pilot program known as Dementia Dog.
What Are the Benefits of Service Dogs?
There are many benefits of a service dog. For the senior who is visually impaired due to glaucoma, for example, the dog can serve as his or her eyes. With the help of the dog, he or she can navigate sidewalks and stairs safely, cross roads without worry, and lead a more independent life. For the caregiver, having a loved one who can accomplish tasks on his or her own allows more time for maintaining a healthy work/life balance.
Who Trains Service Dogs?
A number of groups train service dogs. Some focus on dogs for a single disability while others train the animals to perform a variety of services. A good place to start is the National Resource Directory. It is designed for service members and veterans, but also provides a wealth of information for anyone who is disabled or serves as a caregiver. Assistance Dogs International, an accreditation agency for those who train service dogs, is another excellent resource. If your senior doesn’t qualify or if you need additional assistance while your dog is being trained, there’s a range of assistive technology on the market today to help seniors live more independently — including medical alert services, which ensure that assistance or medical care is easily accessed.
With a specially trained service dog, seniors can enjoy a higher degree of independence. Another benefit? The companionship of a loyal furry friend.