Dementia Dog - Service Design for Dementia Care

Dementia Dog - Service Design for Dementia Care

Dementia Dog is an award winning project, now in it's fifth year of realisation having won awards and funding from the Design Council, The Scottish Government and The Life Changes Trust, along with generating international media coverage.

Way back in my third year of University (2011) our tutor Jeni Lennox, along with Alzheimer Scotland, set us a challenge. To design services for people with Dementia, living in Perth & Kinross.

We worked as a class of 20 to collaboratively collect as much interesting and useful information as possible, I took on the coordinating role for the class, and as well as visiting with a Dementia Cafe and the Scottish Government I, with two others, designed a two day workshop to collate the information and stories collected into a useful resource as well as an initial ideation session.

Following on from the session the class split down into five groups, moving behind ideas we believed in, to develop them further. Myself, Luke McKinney, Flora Arbuthnott and Phoebe Batham worked on a concept which would involve using animals to help people with Dementia.

We quickly moved on from the idea of "Therapy" animals to considering more extreme, and useful forms of animal support. At the end of three weeks we had an outline service connecting vets, trainers, nurses, visitors, carers and people with dementia to a fully trained service dog. We presented a sketch blueprint, and a funding model we developed with insight from the Head of The Scottish Government Health and Social Care directorate.

Though we had had conversations with Dog trainers, Nurses, People with Dementia and Guide Dogs for the Blind during our research we had no idea how far this idea could go.


Sponsored and pushed further by Alzheimer Scotland, aided by partnerships with Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs for the Blind we moved the concept forward, winning funding from the Design Council Living Well with Dementia Challenge and the Scottish Government. The project has been design led the whole way.

Our dogs reliably and caringly complete a myriad of hard and soft tasks, from bringing medication and water at the correct times, to waking and being a psychological anchor. From being a comfort and silent companion to a carer, to being a talking point in the park allowing the person living with dementia to interact with others.

Now, seven years later, the Dementia Dog Scheme is coming to the conclusion of its first pilot, with three dogs, Oskar, Kasper and Alix having dramatically improved the lives of three couples living with Dementia. 

We carefully threaded research matrix throughout the project, to ensure we could prove the impact of the project. On the back of the outstanding results we have been awarded £300,000 of funding from the Life Changes Trust to push forward the project, and now have full time employees to developing the service.

I am so proud to have been part of developing this concept, and to have followed on by documenting the success of our dogs and couples through the filming and editing of regular video diaries. It's been so hard to say goodbye to our pilot volunteers as they've reached the end of their Dementia journey but, having seen the massive impact a service which started as a daft doodle five years ago can make, it's a real shining beacon in my design life.

Maybe Design doesn't change the world every time. But sometimes, and in this case, we make one hell of a difference.

Even a non-linear journey has a pause

Even a non-linear journey has a pause

An interview with "Why Service Design Thinking"

An interview with "Why Service Design Thinking"