Experience in nursing homes: 25 specially trained dogs are currently being used with elderly people suffering from dementia. The animals seem to be exceptionally good at communicating. His eyes light up when Gritje enters.
De Nieuwe Hoeven in Schaijk in Brabant is one of the nursing homes in the Netherlands that is currently conducting a trial with these “contact dogs”.
cuddling in bed
Liki Megraing knocked carefully on the door and then banged her head around the door. “Good evening Cor, look with me.” Behind the nurse, Labradoodle Grietje stumbles into the 95-year-old resident’s room.
Corey in bed. As soon as he sees Gretel, his eyes light up and he taps the spot next to his pillow with an invitation. “It’s already given way, I see,” Meijering says with a laugh. Gretel jumps onto the bed in one motion.
Caring duo nurse and dog
Meijering works in hospice care and together with Grietje forms the so-called “double care”. The Labradoodle – a cross between a Labrador and a poodle – was trained as a contact dog and is used at De Nieuwe Hoeven.
The nurse visits a number of residents daily and spreads the Grietje which method is best for each specific resident. This could be walking or playing ball. With Core who is lying softly on the bed and cuddling.
“So Shine by Gretel”
Kor’s daughter, Sandra, says her father has undergone a transformation since Gretje was in the department. “His partner died of Corona two years ago. He couldn’t say goodbye, which made him very sad.”
Then he suffered a stroke and had to be admitted to De Nieuwe Hoeven. Core was depressed and had a constant death wish, Sandra learns. “But since my gritty it’s a lot brighter and that also makes the care easier.”
The relationship between man and animal
Meijering can only confirm this: “When I visited Cor with Grietje, the evening shift noticed it too. It had an amazing effect on him.”
Marie-Josée Enders, Special Appointment Professor of Anthropology, comes as no surprise. For more than 30 years, she has been researching the human-animal relationship and its effects on the well-being of people at risk, such as older adults with dementia.
There is no clear communication
“Animals make kids and adults smile,” says Enders. “But with the elderly and the weak, it is also very important that they can hug again. At this age, who still hugs you? This touch has an incredibly positive effect on people.”
In addition, communication by animals differs from communication by their caretakers or family members, explains the professor. “Animals don’t judge. They don’t think: Oh my God, does that sound crazy? They are tactless in their communication and never have ulterior motives.”
Easier with a dog
According to her, vulnerable people feel very well the “real” intentions when we ask for something. “There’s actually something else under certain question from us,” she explains.
Meijering also sees this in her work: communication is much easier with Grietje present than without the dog. “You also have a topic that you talk about right away. Residents don’t feel like they have to do anything.”
I like instinct
The nurse admires the dog’s instinct for communication. “Gretje senses the behavior of the population flawlessly, better than we do,” she admits.
“Recently, Grietje refused to enter a room and stood on the doorstep. In fact, it turned out that the female resident was in an aggressive mood. She felt it before anything happened.”
The dog should be everyone’s friend.
Not every dog is suitable for use in a foster institution. Dogs should have a stable and gentle personality, be easy to train and preferably also have a lovable appearance.
They should be true friends for everyone. For example, the Labradoodle like Grietje: a breed with a soft character and the will to work for a boss, but also with a soft, stroke-like coat.
Dogs have been used as guide dogs for the blind for decades. People with PTSD also have a so-called buddy dog for support. Professor Enders says the use of animals in therapy is becoming increasingly popular.
“We only see the benefits,” she says. “Especially when clients are difficult to reach, such as adults or children with autism. It’s amazing what animals can do what humans can’t.”
Nurse Meijering and contact dog Grietje have been a caring duo for two years now. “I know her through and through. We trained together and she lives with me,” says the owner.
Every day she still admires the effect Gritje has on the population: “If we don’t remember, Gritje knows sometimes, oddly enough. I really think a lot: how does Gritje do it?”
At the De Nieuwe Hoeven nursing home in Het Schaijk, they are conducting an experiment with dogs in dementia care.