The Dementia Dog Project aims to combat loneliness and isolation in seniors by creating a series of innovative online activities that help seniors connect with one another, socialize, and have fun. The organization collaborates with Alzheimer Scotland and Dogs for Good to accomplish this task, using dogs as a tool to bring a spark of life back to Alzheimer’s patients.
One of the key players in this project is Billy, a four-year-old black lab-retriever cross owned by Carla Haizelden. Billy loves helping seniors get the most out of their lives, and he’s currently acting as drawmaster for bingo sessions to keep players engaged and entertained.
“Doggy Bingo is very straightforward and easy to play,” says Carla. “The players can watch Billy go and fetch a ball with a random number on it from a container. He passes it to me and I read out the number.”
The games are conducted online these days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the team has been able to reach more people that way. Carla and Billy, along with Julia Winters and her 4-year-old golden retriever, Georgie, another trained Dementia Community Dog, have delivered 70 group sessions across Scotland.
“The feedback for the online bingo has been incredibly positive, participants can’t wait for the next session,” says Donna Paterson, dementia advisor at Alzheimer Scotland. “They want to know when it is, and they love the fact that it’s the dog that picks the bingo balls. They’re quite a competitive bunch and they’re really enjoying the banter online – it’s been a highlight for them and us and a real boost of positivity in the day.”
Billy and Georgie do occasionally get distracted from the game—but that’s all part of their charm.
“Although the dogs are all very well trained we do allow them to have their own personality so it’s only natural that they sometimes get distracted and go off,” says Carla. “There have been times during a game when Billy walks off to get my slippers or a toy instead of a bingo ball, and that always gives everyone a bit of a laugh. He also gets impatient and whines when I’m talking too much because he wants to get on with the playing game and pick the numbers!”
In the new year, the Dementia Dog Project is training a new group of volunteers and their dogs to meet the rising demand for this type of doggy therapy for seniors. We don’t think it’s going to be long before this catches on all over the world as a way for older people living alone or in assisted living facilities to connect and have some fun.
The Dementia Dog Project trains assistance dogs to work with people with dementia, but it also offers a variety of dog-related activities. If you’re not into bingo, for example, you can try a virtual dog-walking session. Dementia patients and their caregivers can join dog owners and their dogs for an online walk using a secure video link on the NHS Attend Anywhere service.
“The walks are super fun and designed to help restore some routine back into people’s daily lives and keep them motivated to exercise. Normally we’d work face to face with a person living with a diagnosis of dementia to promote social development goals such as building confidence or self-reliance,” says Carla. “Because we’re all staying home more at the moment, we found that some of our clients were finding the lack of routine and cognitive stimulation a real struggle and that’s where the virtual dog walks come in. The video link allows us to have conversations and share experiences while we’re on our walks. It also allows the client to interact with the dog and to give commands which makes it far more interactive.”
Check out the video below to learn more about doggy bingo and the Dementia Dog Project.
Would you try doggy bingo or one of the Dementia Dog Project’s other activities? We know we would! Perhaps bingo is for more than just seniors after all!