Thursday, February 25, 2016

Of Dogs and Dementia

My sister's dog Nikka makes frequent appearances on Dementia Be Damned.   She's a major part of Lyn's life.  Nikka loves Lyn deeply and is very excited to see Lyn return home each day.  Repeatedly, we've been able to watch the bond between Lyn and Nikka bring Lyn out of feeling down or confused.  Nikka asks for nothing from Lyn except for love and yet she gives Lyn so much more than that.  She watches over her and alerts us to periods of change in Lyn.  She entertains Lyn keeps her engaged.

Nikka joined the family shortly after Lyn's diagnosis.  She picked out Lyn and immediately fit into their home like she always belonged there.  Lyn wasn't open to a dog at the time but she couldn't resist Nikka's grin or gentle paws reaching up for attention.  It was love at first sight for the two of them.  

Nikka's not a trained service dog but she intuitively has figured out ways to help Lyn.  This sweet girl has made herself an integral part of Lyn's daily life.  I honestly believe that she's part of the reason why Lyn is still as engaged as she is.  

My family has long loved pits and pit mixes.  Nikka confirms all that we've loved about these dogs.  We could not have picked a better dog.  Fortunately, she picked Lyn.

That being said, I would be remiss if I didn't put a cautionary note out there.  Nikka works well in our family.  We've had a number of dogs over the years, many of them pits.  Mom and Lyn have a house with a fully fenced yard.  They knew what they were getting into when they decided to adopt Nikka.  Mom went into the arrangement knowing that she would bear the full weight of the care for Nikka.  She was mentally, emotionally and financially prepared to add a dog into the family for the full life of the dog while simultaneously caring fully for my sister.

I would not encourage a family to get a dog for a dementia patient unless the family were prepared to be the full care providers for the dog.  I would not encourage a dog for a dementia patient if the person was violent or aggressive in any way.  The reality with Nikka is that we got very lucky when she picked out Lyn.  She has settled in and bonded with my sister.  She has chosen a role in the family which suits her personality.  A different dog may not have been such a great match.  A different family may not have the same experience as we're having.

Dogs can undoubtedly provide enrichment and stimulation for a dementia patient.  They can ease the emotional swings.  However, the environment needs to be one where the dog feels safe as well as one where the patient is kept safe.  

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