The Prince of Wales was charmed by a tiny dog that helps people with dementia when he visited a hospital to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the British Geriatrics Society.
Charles met Little Dorrit, a six-year-old Miniature Pinscher who for the last four years has been one of the most welcome visitors to the wards of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in central London.
The prince scratched her ears and held her in the crook of an arm, impressed as he listened to Little Dorrit’s owner Diana Mukuma and matron Darlene Romero explain the huge benefits the therapy dog can have for patients.
Ms Romero said: “They cuddle her and they touch her and it is very calming for them.
“We have a patient currently on the ward and she loves Little Dorrit. She used to be very restless, not able to breathe without oxygen.
“But with Dorrit around she was able to calm down and come off the oxygen for more than an hour.”
Ms Mukuma, who volunteers at the hospital, said it was “wonderful” to see the impact the dog has on people.
She said: “You see patients who are not so sure and say, ‘I used to have a dog but don’t want her on my bed’, but gradually they remember. It is very good for them and they recall a lot of things.”
Ms Romero added: “It is very overwhelming. Sometimes we can’t do that with medical intervention or by engaging with them, but it is a different type of therapy a dog offers.”
Charles, who has been patron of the British Geriatrics Society (BGS) since 1993, also met doctors, nurses and health care workers who look after older people with complex needs.
Introduced to dementia and delirium clinical nurse specialists Elizabeth Willis and Nike Tella, the prince told them he himself had suffered from delirium in the past during a bout of pneumonia.
Ms Willis said: “He asked what you can do when you have it, and I said that if you can find the root cause you can treat that, so if you did have an infection, like he did, we would then treat that and the delirium would often get better.”
Ms Tella also showed him a “dementia twiddle muff”, knitted by volunteers to help stimulate and engage patients.
The prince was introduced to occupational therapist Corne Rossouw, and Leon Kreitzman, who goes to BGS-supported community exercise classes in south London that help prevent older people suffering falls and becoming frail.
Mr Kreitzman, 73, said: “He told us he was starting to get to an age where it’s an issue, about being steady on your feet.
“But we pointed out that his mother’s not doing too badly.”
The pair were impressed with Charles’s knowledge of how falls can affect older people and the importance of the exercise classes.
Mr Kreitzman said: “A fall’s expensive, both in physical and emotional terms. It’s not so much the falling and breaking a hip, it’s what it does to the self-confidence.”
The prince also presented a lifetime achievement award to Baroness Sally Greengross, who leads parliamentary groups in the House of Lords on dementia and ageing, in recognition of her decades of improving services for older people and her support for the BGS.
Dr Eileen Burns, president of the society, said: “We are delighted that our patron, the Prince of Wales, was able to join us for our 70th anniversary celebration.
“Since it was founded in 1947 the BGS has grown to be a modern society in the country with over 3,600 members, who have transformed the quality of care for frail older people over the last 70 years.”