They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but an Australian-first pilot program bringing together rescued greyhounds and aged care residents hopes to prove them wrong.
The Hounds Helping Humans pilot is set to be introduced into HammondCare residential aged care homes in coming months.
The pilot will build on previous animal engagement programs with seniors that have been found to greatly improve their quality of life by decreasing loneliness and depression, increasing physical activity and improving socialisation.
It will also include residents living with dementia.
HammondCare CEO Mike Baird, who launched the program on June 3 at the HammondCare Horsley residential care home, said life engagement is a key component of HammondCare’s relationship-based model of care.
“Meaningful involvement with everyday life is crucial to everyone’s wellbeing,” Baird said.
“I am delighted that one part of this Life Engagement Pilot is evaluating how animal engagement and support can improve quality of life for residents.
“What a wonderful outcome if rescued greyhounds can be given a new purpose providing happiness for the those who are older in the community.”
Greyhound Rescue president Nat Panzarino said greyhounds were good candidates to assist with wellbeing in aged care services.
They are generally calm in nature as well as being tall enough for people in wheelchairs or confined to beds to interact with them.
“At Greyhound Rescue we know all too well the magic that these incredible hounds can bring to people’s lives,” Panzarino said.
“What better way to share this magic with more people than bringing greyhounds to where they are really needed – to brighten the lives of people are craving connection and companionship.”
A 2013 Australian study found aged care residents with dementia and low mood demonstrated significantly improved depression scores after receiving dog-assisted support relative to human-only intervention.
HammondCare senior research fellow, Professor Susan Kurrle, said she would be interested to see whether interactions with greyhounds could improve quality of life.
“Dogs can have a wonderful, calming effect for someone with dementia.
“I have seen how quickly they can calm agitation,” Kurrle said.
The Hounds Helping Humans pilot, funded by a grant from Australian Ethical, is an Australian first and will operate within tight processes with both residents participating and greyhounds carefully chosen.
The greyhounds have received training to prepare them for the sounds, sights, activities and equipment (such as wheelchairs and trolleys) they will encounter in an aged care environment.
The training also encompasses communication techniques to facilitate meaningful connection between the greyhounds and residents, specifically residents living with dementia.