Canine callers help people with dementia play doggy bingo

Daniel Harkins, PA Scotland
·3-min read

People with dementia have enjoyed virtual bingo games during the coronavirus pandemic thanks to the help of two canine callers.

The Dementia Dog charity, a project of Alzheimer Scotland and Dogs for Good, uses specially trained dogs to help people with dementia and their carers.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, charity workers came up with the virtual bingo games to reduce social isolation – with a golden retriever and a lab x retriever selecting the balls.

Carla Haizelden and Billy the dog
Carla Haizelden and Billy the dog (Dementia Dogs/PA)

Doggy bingo sessions take place through video calls across Scotland, with 70 group sessions so far.

The charity’s canine callers include Billy, a four-year-old black lab x retriever and Georgie, a four-year-old golden retriever.

Carla Haizelden, a dementia community dog handler in Glasgow, hosts the bingo with Billy.

She 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.”

Watch: Devoted wife surprises dementia-stricken husband by moving into his care home

The bingo has been so successful the charity plans on training a pool of Dementia Dog volunteers with their own trained pet dogs to help in the New Year.

Donna Paterson, dementia adviser at Alzheimer Scotland, said: “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, and other services.

Jeannette and Jon King live in Aberdeen and have a four-year-old Labrador, Lenny, from the charity.

Mr King, 77, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years ago.

Ms King, 74, said: “Lenny has changed our lives.

“Getting Lenny is one of the best things I’ve done in my life.

“When you or your partner receive a diagnosis, it feels like your life is closing down, but Lenny has opened up a new world.

“Jon has suffered from severe depression for many years but Lenny provides a positive start to the day.

“He makes Alzheimer’s that little less frightening.”

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