How therapy dogs help jog memory in memory-care facilities

Kirby brought his favorite bone to show everyone

Kirby brought his favorite bone to show everyone

Memory and dementia care facilities assist clients with failing or failed memories. Short or long term – they just have little or no memory.

It is surprising to some, expected to other, that clients with little or no memory will remember the therapy dogs that visit. Consistency is the key. Regular visits at the same time at least once a week is optimum.

One client once said to me “It’s Monday because Kirby is here.” So the association with a day of the week had been cemented.

Another client said “I like all the dogs but Kirby is my favorite.” Not only did he remember one dog’s name but remembered that others visited as well and he could make that cognitive choice of one over another.

Lucy is so loved

Lucy is so loved

When we visit with clients with failing memory repetition is critical. We never are bothered by the repeated questions:

  • What’s his name?
  • What kind of dog is he?
  • How old is he?
  • Is it a boy or girl?
  • Is he friendly?
  • Does he live with you?
  • Does he have brothers and sisters?

These questions elicit interest and jog memories … perhaps of past pets they have had in their own lives. Perhaps just from the prior weeks’ visit.

Benny is always happy to get a hug

Benny is always happy to get a hug

We always begin a visit with remembering something from the last visit.

Remember Kirby had surgery – do you know where his scar is?

Lucy brought treats last week – do you remember if they were cupcakes or brownies?

Which dog did I bring last week – Kirby or Benny?

We also give out the dog’s trading cards, little cards with the dog’s photo and brief story about the dog. Some clients have them in their rooms and some carry them in their pockets. Some take them out and look at the real dog and make that critical connection between the photo and live animal.

Any and every tool we can employ to jog memory, give a feeling of confidence and participation, provide a sense of comfort and safety is used during these visits. The dogs are the vehicle for the human to communicate and elicit conversation.

Consistency is beneficial for the dogs as well. They know exactly what to do when they arrive; they know the clients and smells and who likes to be cuddled and who they can just sit quietly next to. When a new dog is introduced it adds to the experience, but it is the “regulars” who make the most impact.

Both ends of the leash have to be engaged and engaging, patient and encouraging and enjoy the time spent with those we visit.