THREE-year-old Labrador Melvin is taking the lead on dementia awareness across the nation.
Melvin the dementia assistance dog has been on breakfast television and showing his work at this month’s Australian Dementia Forum in Melbourne. But it is at home in Ballarat where he has his biggest job.
The affectionate Melvin is an assistance dog for Edie Mayhew, who was diagnosed with early-onset dementia seven years ago, aged 59.
Edie does always say 'he looks after me and I look after him'.Bigger Hearts' Anne Tudor
Melvin has been living with Edie and her partner Anne Tudor the past year as part of a long term study into dementia and canine companions.
“His impact is not in finding things, or doing things to help. He enables Edie to take responsibility for feeding, grooming and toileting,” Anne said. “Edie does always say ‘he looks after me and I look after him’.”
Melvin, and fellow dementia assistance dogs, are re-trained seeing-eye dogs. Anne said with less than one third of trained guide dogs approved to work, dogs like Melvin needed a career change – and he was more suited to working in dementia.
He is affectionate, can travel anywhere and is devoted enough to spend a week in a small room with Edie when she is in short-term care.
Dementia assistance dogs are on strict diets for weight and the latest trainees will stop at every road corner to ensure the handler is concentrating on the intersection and traffic.
The dogs’ roles change as their companion’s dementia progresses.
Edie has always taken Melvin for a walk, but lately he has gone out on two leads with Anne holding one for back-up.
Anne said Melvin tended to like walking in between them, wherever they went.
Melvin also liked to go out for a coffee and sit at Edie’s feet.
Meanwhile, documentary film Circle of Love featuring Anne and Edie’s commitment ceremony was launched at Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka last weekend.
Film-makers interviewed people affected by dementia in their families and also returned to Anne and Edie a week after the ceremony.
“Edie couldn’t remember any of the ceremony when you asked her but it carried a strong message about dementia,” Anne said. “Edie was conducting people to sing and having so much fun...her memory can be triggered by photos and there is a smile on her face.”