Man's best friend cares for the elderly

5:06 min

They can detect people buried under an avalanche, sniff out illegal drugs or bomb-making equipment and guide the visually impaired.

But it's only in recent years in Sweden, that "man's best friend" has been used as a means of helping the nation's growing elderly population living in residential care.

He's called Oliver, he's a golden retriever and for three days a week, he works at Attendo's elderly care home in Ljung, Värmdö, where he's loved by the dozen residents living there.

His owner, auxiliary nurse Maria Ohlsson, is helping 88-year-old Inga maintain her cognitive and motor-skills by hiding doggy treats behind slats on a hand-held wooden board for Oliver to find. Other tasks include a traditional game of fetch with a ball ,which Maria Ohlsson says, have provided surprising results with stroke victims.

"I had a lady here who said that her hand did not work and she could not play the game. So, first a took a ball and gave it to her healthy hand and she threw it away for Oliver and it worked well. Then I tricked her into using the hand she said did not work and she didn't think and she just threw the ball for  Oliver," she tells Radio Sweden.  

88-year-old Inga is one of three residents that Maria Ohlsson and Oliver helps during three weekly sessions at Ljung, sessions which can replace time with a physiotherapist or occupational therapist.

The municipality of Värmdö currently has five dogs working at elderly care homes, reportedly the highest number out of 50 municipalities in Sweden which use care dogs. They all pay for health care professionals to have their dogs trained at a special dog school in Skåne where they must pass an exam.

It's not just physical work and games. Care dogs such as Oliver also provide comfort to those who are dying.

"If a patient is going to die, he lies with them in the bed. It's peaceful and he comforts them," says Maria Ohlsson.

When he is working, Oliver wears a spcecial jacket which tells him that it is time to work and when he takes it off he knows that he is off. Maria Ohlsson says it's important that Oliver rests when he gets home because his work is very tiring.

"He gets very tired when he goes home. He runs out in the wood running with our horses when he is home and he gets to clear his head. To just be a dog. That's very important".