Dogs : A Catalyst for Conversation & Joy in Dementia

The Role of an Occupational Therapy Student

Currently Kari Milsom is on an occupational therapy placement in Alzheimer Scotland. This week’s blog is a Q&A about her passion and experience of working with dogs and integrating that into her occupational therapy education and the contribution of dogs for people to live well with dementia

Can you tell us who Kari is?

Hello, I am Kari Milsom, I live in Yorkshire and I’m in my final year studying part-time for an occupational therapy degree at York St John University.  University is a new venture for me as I have been working full-time for 30 something years, mainly in the voluntary sector developing services for people who are facing challenges in life.

Dogs have always been a big part of my life and for the past 9 years I have worked for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, a UK charity providing assistance dogs to adults and children with a hearing loss. You can find out more about their work here

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When I am not studying part time as an occupational therapy student, I am the National Partnership Manager, responsible for the care and maintenance of the dog and client partnerships for life, there are over 800 Hearing Dog partnerships in the UK with lots in Scotland so it is a big team to manage but I love it!

Can you tell us about why you wanted to come to Alzheimer Scotland for your final year occupational therapy placement?

Studying is not all about theory and books, student Occupational Therapists need to do a minimum of 1000 hours practical placement working in both physical and mental health settings in NHS and social services. My placements had been in Community Adult Rehabilitation, Adult Neuro Rehabilitation, Paediatrics and for my final placement I wanted to gain an insight into what is considered a “non-traditional occupational therapy” setting.

I immediately thought about Alzheimer Scotland. I was drawn to their innovative project, working with Dogs for the Disabled and the Glasgow School of Art, The Dementia Dog project. For me this was my ideal placement. I felt I could learn and contribute to this fantastic project, linking my new and developing knowledge of occupational therapy and in return bring my years of dog expertise into play.

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Can you tell us about your placement in Alzheimer Scotland?

The main focus of my occupational therapy placement is the Dementia Dog project. The Project is made up of quite a few areas; there are the assistance dogs which are out working in the home with people living with dementia in exactly the same way as a Hearing Dog or Guide Dog would work, out and about with their distinctive jackets on.

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You can access more information here

Predominantly I am working on Dementia Dog Days at Alzheimer Scotland Resource Centres, allowing more people with dementia to experience the value a dog can bring in helping with communication, memory, storytelling and mobility.  I am also doing a lot of research to look at the “art and the science” behind why dogs make a difference in these areas.

The wonderful thing is that all this work is so occupational therapy  focussed, how through occupation with the dog, people with dementia are able to engage in a new spectrum of activities or how having a dog involved helps the retention of activities of daily living, independence and being able to stay in your own home for longer.

Poppy, Albert and Alex at our Dementia Dog Day in Kilmarnock.

Poppy, Albert and Alex at our Dementia Dog Day in Kilmarnock.

Where have you been on your placement?

I have been to the Alzheimer Scotland Conference in Glasgow, my arms were aching with carrying all the information I found and my voice was hoarse through chatting to so many people.

I’m linking with the policy team based at the Alzheimer Scotland national office including the two occupational therapy interns Lyndsay and Chris along with the music therapy intern Rebecca.

NHS Education Scotland have adopted ‘Dementia Dog’ as their charity of the year so I’ve been doing some promotional work over there too.

I’m helping set up Dementia Dog sessions with the Alzheimer Scotland Day Care Team at the Dementia Resource Centre in Dundee and a big chunk of my time is spent at the beautiful Dementia Resource Centre in Kilmarnock.

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Everything in there is so dementia friendly and they are setting the trend for how accessible and inviting a space Alzheimer Scotland services can be.

I have had the opportunity to work with the occupational therapists in the local services. I was invited to go along to the Dementia Cafe at Croy Day Hospital in Ayr run by the occupational therapy team there.  I had a good blether with Carol Mitchell and I will be going back in a couple of weeks to the Cognitive Stimulation Therapy Session. To learn more about Carols work read pages 26-27 in Allied Health Professionals Delivering Integrated Care: Living Well with Community Support

What have been your highlights so far?

It has to be the people. The people living with dementia who share so much of their time with me and always seem so happy to answer my questions, it’s a real privilege to spend time with them.  Also the staff and volunteers at Alzheimer Scotland, I have been made so welcome by everyone, the teams work so hard and with such care and attention for their clients, it’s lovely to see.

And last but not least the dogs: Alex 4 Paws, Poppy, Albert and Bo.  All working in their unique ways to add to the quality of life people living with dementia.

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The first 6 weeks of my placement have flown by and I know the final 4 weeks will be on me before I know it, but if you would like to know more about Dementia Dog, do get in touch your can email me on or follow me on Twitter @Kari76npm #dementiadog


Kari Milsom

Occupational Therapy Student


Kari is currently on placement with Alzheimer Scotland and the Dementia Dog team as part of her final degree year via York St John University.  Kari’s substantive post is with Hearing Dogs for Deaf People and upon completion of her degree she will be heading up the Applicant Engagement section as Consultant Occupational Therapist for the charity.  As part of the Dementia Dog team, Kari is creating a Tool Kit for the role out of Dementia Dog Days at Alzheimer Scotland resource centres and creating protocols for dogs to be incorporated into therapeutic activities.


7 thoughts on “Dogs : A Catalyst for Conversation & Joy in Dementia

  1. What a fantastic placement and an excellent opportunity to demonstrate core OT whilst collaborating with others (professionals and animals). Wouldn’t it be amazing if everyone living with dementia had access to a dementia dog, if they wanted? Good luck with the rest of your placement and remainder of your degree.

  2. thought this was really interesting especially as i know someone with dementia who has one of these dogs, the difference this dog has made not only to his life but that of his wifes is remarkable, she says since having the dog its like they have got their old life back.

    • Hello Amanda

      Thank you so much for sharing that with us, I am so pleased there has been a tangible difference, that is great news. Dementia Dog is a brilliant innovation and there is a real desire to expand the scope of the project so testimonies like this are very valuable.

      Best wishes


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