Dr. Ardra L. Cole is Professor, Graduate Program in Lifelong Learning at Mount Saint Vincent University, former Associate Vice-President, Research and Acting Dean of Education. As a qualitative research methodologist, Ardra has published extensively in conventional and non-conventional academic prose and in alternative, scholarly, non-print media. She is co-editor of the Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research (2009) as well as a series of books on the role of the arts in research. Her research on caregiving and Alzheimer’s disease involves multi-media installation and performance, and has been exhibited in numerous public and academic contexts across Canada. This work was foundational to the establishment of ElderDog Canada – a national charity that honours older dogs and older adults and the special bond between them. In her current research, Ardra explores, through photography and story, the in-depth meaning of dogs in seniors’ lives.
Caring Canines: Dogs, Dementia, and Person-centred Care
Dogs visit seniors in long-term care facilities. They prompt responses that humans seem to be incapable of soliciting. A person at end of life visibly relaxes with every long, slow stroke of a dog’s coat. Someone with dementia, who has not spoken in months, inexplicably finds not only her voice but also the capacity to clearly articulate phrases that imply recognition and association with dogs past. Studies abound that show the many and varied ways that dogs improve the physical, social, and emotional well-being of seniors. While there is a rich literature on the many benefits of dogs for people with dementia, most of this research stops at naming these benefits. In this paper I explore in greater depth the role of dogs in person-centred care and as an important part of well-being for persons with dementia.
I draw on my program of research on caregiving and Alzheimer’s disease to provide a description and analysis of the role of dogs in the care experience. Over several years of gathering stories, photos, and artifacts about caregiving, one unanticipated finding was the large number that included and referenced the family dog as part of the care experience. Whether by providing companionship or psychological or physical security; creating opportunities for physical and social interaction; or by restoring a sense of agency through basic care-related tasks, dogs are an important source of comfort, reassurance and pleasure in the lives of seniors, both ill and well.
In the proposed session, I explore the varied roles that dogs play in the caregiving experience for people with dementia or other forms of cognitive decline. To do so, I use Kitwood’s (1998) theory of the kinds of interactions conducive to personhood and well-being for those with dementia: recognition, negotiation, collaboration, play, timalation, celebration, relaxation, validation, holding, and facilitation. Kitwood’s theory has particular relevance to the role of companion animals within the context of dementia care because each type of caring interaction does not require verbal communication. As one family caregiver so poignantly stated, “You don’t have to talk to care.”
In the paper, I define each kind of interaction and describe how a dog is able to and might provide the kind of caring interaction in a way that a human caregiver is unable to achieve. In the time-limited presentation, based on the paper, I provide an overview of the caring interactions and a selection of examples.