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Dementia Dogs give a helping paw at bingo sessions

By Alan Beresford

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A GROUND-breaking project that helps Scots who are living with dementia has been trialling innovative new ways of working during the pandemic.

Dementia Dog Georgie gets to work with the bingo balls.
Dementia Dog Georgie gets to work with the bingo balls.

Dementia Dog, a collaboration between Alzheimer Scotland and UK-wide charity Dogs for Good, uses specially trained dogs to help people with dementia and their carers.

When the country went into lockdown the project had to find new ways to work with their clients to help them stay connected and reduce social isolation. They came up with an array of fantastic ideas including virtual therapy walks, online Doggy Bingo and physiotherapy sessions.

Virtual Dog Bingo sessions take place through video calls with existing Alzheimer Scotland dementia support groups in various locations across Scotland.

They’ve also been doing virtual Dog Bingo sessions with various groups.

So far they have delivered 70 group sessions and they've reached many more people online in a wider geographical area than they’d usually be able to.

To date the dogs have been Billy (a four-year-old black Lab-Retriever cross) with Carla and Georgie (a four-year-old Golden Retriever) with Julia Winters who is based in Bristol but delivers Doggy Bingo sessions in Scotland and they are both trained Dementia Community Dogs.

In the new year they will be training a pool of Dementia Dog volunteers with their own trained pet dogs to help deliver virtual dog bingo sessions to help then to meet rising demand.

Carla Haizelden, a Dementia Community Dog Handler in Glasgow with dog Billy, said: “Doggy Bingo is very straightforward and easy to play.

"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.

“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. 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!”

Donna Paterson, Dementia Advisor at Alzheimer Scotland, added: “The feedback for the online bingo has been incredibly positive, participants can’t wait for the next session, 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.”

Dementia Dog also offers virtual dog walks which connect a dog handler and their dog with the person with dementia and their carer using a secure video link via ‘NHS attend anywhere’. People just need a smartphone or a tablet to take part.

Dementia Dog also works with physiotherapists to offer virtual exercise sessions which are individually tailored to clients and delivered via video calls to their home.

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