UAE: How these dogs help Alzheimer's patients sing, read

The animal-assisted intervention has proven to enhance mood, reduce agitation, increase social interaction, and provide a calming effect


Waad Barakat

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Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Published: Tue 7 May 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 May 2024, 10:06 PM

Tess the Labrador, a superstar member of the Reading Dogs team, recently spent an hour with twelve seniors who are battling Alzheimer's and dementia. She wiggled her way into their hearts while they read books and sang songs, creating a special human-animal connection.

Tess is part of the 'Hapinnies' crew, a group of dogs in the Reading Dogs that recently teamed up with the '4Get-me-not' organisation that raises awareness about Alzheimer's disease.

The animal-assisted intervention has proven to enhance mood, reduce agitation, increase social interaction, and provide a calming effect for those suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia, and children facing verbal difficulties.

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"Our sessions with the reading dogs have shown remarkable improvements in the social and emotional well-being of Alzheimer's patients. Instead of being confined to their homes and having limited interactions with others, they now have the opportunity to bond with the dogs, which is crucial in combating the loneliness associated with Alzheimer's," Karalynn Thomson, managing director of Reading Dogs, told Khaleej Times.

The Reading Dogs program continues to expand its reach, helping not only adults but also children with learning difficulties. One story that Thomson shared was about a child with verbal difficulties. She said: "We had a child who had sessions with speech therapy, and she would not speak during the therapy or with her family. However, when she thought she was speaking to a dog, she would speak to the dog and even try to teach the dog. It was a significant milestone for her.”

Lots of progress

Discussing the progress observed in the programme, Thomson stated, "We have seen a lot of progress in the children we work with, but it varies from child to child. Some children who were not very verbal eventually learned how to say the dog's name and give commands, which is a huge achievement. Additionally, we have helped children overcome their fear of dogs and become more comfortable with them."

The Happiness Dogs programme, supported by Royal Canin, was launched in August 2021 with the goal of providing animal-assisted therapy to all children and promoting the human-animal bond.

These therapy sessions, tailored to the needs of each child, have been conducted in various settings such as speech and occupational therapy centres. The presence of dogs during these sessions have resulted in increased interaction and language development.

Reflecting on the program's impact, Thomson said: "Animal-assisted therapy has been transformative for both Alzheimer's patients and children with learning difficulties. We have witnessed big breakthroughs in their progress and have seen improvements in their language skills, confidence, and overall well-being."

Carefully tailored sessions

In addition to the therapy sessions, the Reading Dogs program also conducts school reading sessions. These sessions are carefully tailored to match the reading level of each class, often themed to align with the curriculum or current topics. During these sessions, children have the opportunity to read to the dogs in a quiet area without interruption.

Thomson shared that anyone who owns a dog can also be part of the reading sessions, but also emphasized the importance of proper recruitment and training for team members.

Thomson said: "If someone and their dog want to be part of our team, they can come for an assessment. If accepted, we provide training to both the owner and the dog, which lasts about six months. This rigorous process ensures the safety of both the child and the dog during therapy sessions."


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