As short-term memory fades, easy tasks become difficult, and communicating with others becomes frustrating, living with Alzheimer's can seem like an endless struggle. But now, the lives of two couples living with dementia in Scotland just got easier with the help two specially-trained dogs provided by Alzheimer Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs Scotland, and the Glasgow School of Art, reports the BBC.

The idea that dementia dogs could help sufferers of the disease to take their medicine and get them to lead a normal daily routine was a no-brainer for students at the Glasgow School of Art. "We thought, why can't we train dogs to help people with dementia in the same way as we train dogs to help people who can't see?" said Luke McKinney, part of the group of students who were asked to innovate products that could help people with dementia.

With the outpouring of support from Alzheimer Scotland, a leading dementia organization in Scotland, dementia dogs are an "innovative and imaginative" approach to help people with dementia and their families. "Dementia Dog has had a truly wonderful impact on the families involved," said Joyce Gray, deputy deputy director of development at Alzheimer Scotland.

Kaspa, a Labrador trained to help people with the disease, is considered "the best thing that's ever happened to us," said Ken and Glenys Will. Ken, who was diagnosed with dementia three years ago, now has Kaspa at his side while his wife Glenys goes to work. Chores just got easier for the couple with the addition of Kaspa, who nudges Ken when an alarm signals him to turn on the oven.

Oscar, a golden retriever, has helped Frank and Maureen Benham become more fluid in conversation. Difficulty communicating with others is a common problem faced by people suffering with dementia.

"Before we had the dog, I did get frustrated," said Frank. Now, Oscar is seen as a buffer between the couple and with passers-by on the street. Maureen is slowly starting to rebuild her confidence by holding longer conversations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 5.3 million of Americans currently have Alzheimer's disease and many more suffer from other types of dementia, such as frontotemporal dementia or Huntington's disease. Dementia sufferers may feel relief from these dogs can abate frustration associated with memory loss, impaired cognitive ability, and perform daily living activities. While Kaspa and Oscar have helped their owners recover some of their independence, these specially-trained dogs may just provide benefits that can better equip sufferers with battling the disease.

Animals Can Brighten Moods

Depression is common among people who suffer from Alzheimer's, says the Alzheimer's Association. An estimated 40 to 50 percent of people living with dementia have reported symptoms of depression, especially those who are living in long-term residential care. Specially trained dogs can serve as animal-assisted therapy for patients.

In a study published in International Psychogeriatrics, researchers assessed the effect of animal-assisted activities with dogs their ability to help sufferers of Alzheimer's with their cognition, symptoms, emotional, status and motor activity. Although the sample was small with ten patients, researchers found that the dogs' presence and animal-assisted activities were associated with a decrease in anxiety and sadness after three weeks.

Nurses Report Fewer Behavioral Incidents With Dementia Dogs Around

Dementia patients who have a dog say they are able to monitor their behavior better. In a study published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research, researchers studied the effects of a resident dog on patients with Alzheimer's in a nursing home for four weeks. Nurses reported significantly fewer problems during the dayshift with no significant changes in behavior during the evening shift. Problematic behaviors of Alzheimer's patients can be assuaged with the presence of a resident dog for those in a nursing home.

Provides Tranquility

Animal-assisted therapy for dementia patients could help alleviate some of their symptoms and provide tranquility. In a study published in Encephale, researchers observed the effects of dog-assisted therapy on the behavior of patients with dementia. Researchers met regularly over nine months with one male and two female patients who had severe dementia in a nursing home. They found that dog-assisted therapy provided psychological benefit to the patients, in the form of a calming effect was experienced by all three participants. The dog was said to provide unconditional acceptance, an increase self-esteem in their "owner," and provide a more secure environment for them at the nursing facility.

Sources: McCabe BW, Baun MM, Speich D, Agrawal S. Resident dog in the Alzheimer's special care unit. West J Nurs Res. 2002.

Mossello E, Ridolfi A, Mello AM, Lorenzini G, Mugnai F, Piccini C, Barone D, Peruzzi A, Masotti G, Marchionni N. Animal-assisted activity and emotional status of patients with Alzheimer's disease in day care. Int Psychogeriatr. 2011.

Tribet J, Boucharlat M, Myslinski M. Animal-assisted therapy for people suffering from severe dementia. Encephale. 2008.