Neurological Service Dogs (Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Brain Injury, Lupus, Narcolepsy and Psychological Disabilities)
Diseases involving the nervous system are devastating to the individual and their families. In certain diagnosis such as Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, etc. the disease is progressive. Over time the individual losses control of their arms and legs (as a result of the destruction of the nerves). Additionally, thought processes become progressively impaired as the disease advances. The person’s safety becomes increasingly at risk related to the disease. The individual may:
• Leave the stove on
• Leave water running
• Become more prone to falling and unable to get up
• Wandering and becoming lost
Day to day tasks become more overwhelming as the individual can experience:
• Mood swings
• Forget where items are located
• Forget how to do simple tasks
• Forget to take medication
The care giving tasks become increasingly needed from the person’s friends and family. Such care can be expensive or if separated from loved ones, unavailable. The goal of the service dog for these individuals is to keep them as independent as long as possible. Statistically once a service dog is placed, the individual is able to stay out of assisted living (nursing homes) an average of 3 years longer. This is a substantial savings annually. Being able to stay in one’s home longer and with greater independence is priceless. Another category of neurological disorders are those which are non-progressive. A few examples are:
• a). Brain Damage (chemical or organic) • b). Stroke • c). Down Syndrome • d). Brain Tumor • e). Narcolepsy • f). Psychological
Individuals experiencing this type of diagnosis can have a wide range of symptoms. They may struggle with:
1. Balance 2. Confusion 3. Disorientation 4. Communication Difficulties 5. Physical Symptoms 6. Cataplexy attacks
The goal of the service dog for such persons is to aid them in achieving as much independence as possible. Service dogs also offer companionship, decrease isolation and improve physical mobility.
Though the range of illnesses involving the brain is expansive, there are a few key symptoms that cross nearly all neurological diseases.
Service Dog Response
Cognitive (poor decision making, environmental safety issues)
Alert to hazards, alert to client leaving home, alert to night awakenings
Perceptual (decrease function of five senses, decrease balance)
Guide on stairs, balance, assist with rising and sitting
Physical (headaches, fatigue, tremors, decrease sleep)
Retrieve items, retrieve medication, snuggle, lean, deep pressure
Emotional/Behavioral (irritability, mood swings, aggression)
Snuggle, touch, companionship, increase independence, distraction Unable to wake to an alarm Alert to siren, alarm clock, fire alarm and phone ringing by pulling covers off or other means
Additional Information on Service dogs for narcoleptics:
Service dogs cannot predict cataplexy attacks like many who predict epileptic seizures. Epileptics brains actually give off signals ahead of an actual seizure, and a seizure alert dog senses those signals and is taught to tug on their owner (or exhibit some kind of sign) to warn them. Cataplexy does not cause the brain to give off any kind of warning signs.
Of course, if laughter or some very specific things trigger your attacks, in time you can teach your dog to recognize that whenever you laugh, you’ll have an attack. Not really all that helpful, though, because for most of us an attack comes immediately after or during the triggering event. And no, your service dog doesn’t keep you awake while driving. Especially since they belong in the back seat of your car, and have no way to even know if you are falling asleep.
The only way you can get a dog to wake you when you’re sleeping (when you need to get up for work, etc), you can train your dog to wake you when your alarm goes off and you don’t awaken to that. The dog would hear the alarm and pull the covers off you. But that in itself would not allow a dog to be a service dog.
If one lives alone, does errands alone, goes to appts alone, or when in public, should you have a cataplexy attack, your dog becomes a medical alert dog, meaning that if you are found collapsed and unresponsive, with your dog lying beside you, you are easily identified as having a medical condition and your dog wears a medical alert laminated card that hangs from her vest (along with her certification) that explains what is happening to you, and what to do, and more importantly, what not to do.
Your dog becomes what is referred to as cross-trained, meaning your dog is trained to do a multitude of things and when a recipient gets their dog, they use the commands that are specific to their disability. Imagine having a dog that could help you become a part of the world again. Animals Deserve Better, Inc Paws for Life Program specializes in training Psychological Service Dogs for qualified individuals with neurological disorders, mental illness, developmental disorders, intellectual disorders, and other psychological conditions that rise to the level of a disability.
Enhanced Quality of Life and Personal Freedom. Animals Deserve Better Inc., Service Dogs are highly trained to enhance the lives of their handlers by helping them to live independently. Each Service Dog is custom trained to meet the specific needs of the individual with whom they are matched. These talented dogs are trained to help their handlers within the home, as well as outside of the home. Psychological Service Dogs are trained to perform tasks that help ease debilitating symptoms of some psychological impairment.
Disabilities include, but are not limited to, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Acute Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Generalized Anxiety Disorders, Mood Disorders, Asperger Syndrome, and Tourette Syndrome.
Listed below are examples of some of the many tasks Mental Health Service Dogs can be trained to do for their handler.
Assist handler within their home. Assist handler in places of public accommodation (e.g. grocery stores, shopping malls, public transportation, and etc.). Remind their handler to take medication. Wake handler for school or work. Assist in coping with emotional overload by bringing handler into the “here and now.” Provide a buffer or a shield for the handler in crowded areas by creating a physical boundary. Extinguish flashbacks by bringing handler into the here and now . Orient during panic/anxiety attack. Stand behind handler to increase feelings of safety, reduce hyper-vigilance, and decrease the likelihood of the handler being startled by another person coming up behind them. Search dwelling.
Many of the benefits to owning a Service Dog extend beyond having the dog’s assistance with certain tasks. Such benefits are inherent in the human-canine relationship and often include: Relief from feelings of isolation. An increased sense of well-being. Daily structure and healthy habits. An increased sense of security. An increased sense of self-efficacy. An increased sense of self-esteem. An increased sense of purpose. Mood improvement and increased optimism. A secure and uncomplicated relationship. A dependable and predictable love, affection and nonjudgmental companionship. Motivation to exercise.
Encouragement for social interactions. Reduction in debilitating symptoms. Greater access to the world. Around the clock support. FASD Service Dog FASD/DRUG EXPOSURE DOGS
One of our Animals Deserve Better, Inc Service Dog programs is a placement program for children with FAS or FASD, as well as children who were exposed to drugs prenatally. We place service dogs with children with FASD and we specifically train the dog, family and child together.
What are the FASD/DE Assistance Dog trained to do? FASD, Autism, ADHD, drug exposure, and many other similar neurologically based disabilities have similar patterns of behavior, and as such the FASD/DE Service Dog is trained in many of the same tasks as the Autism Assistance Dog.
Sensory Overload We can train the dogs in Behavior disruption and interruption with the goal being to stop a particular behavior and replace the behavior with interaction with the dog. Using this set of unique commands, the parents or adult handler can ask the dog to interact with the child to assist in areas like sensory overload, repetitive behaviors, or interrupting compulsive thought patterns.
Safety Like the Autism Service Dog, dogs for children with FASD or drug exposure prenatally often present a safety factor in the home. They may be impulsive and bolt or wander away when in public, or may leave the house without telling anyone where they are going. With the Tethering system which joins the three unit team, parent/caregiver, dog, and child, the child is no longer able to bolt away or wander when out in public, and the parents can relax and enjoy the outing. If the tether is undone so the child can play at the playground, or once in the home and the child would “disappear”; the dog maybe trained to the specific scent of the child. With scent specific training the dog maybe able to find them anywhere, even in a crowded mall!
Social Lubrication Similar to the ways in which a Service Dog assists an individual with Autism, FASD/DE Service Dogs provide support in a variety of environments, which result in improved communication and social skills. This is referred to as social lubrication. The term “social lubrication” was developed by researchers, Mugford and Mc’Comisky to describe the phenomena where the presence of animals increased social interaction between people. Other social scientists suggested that the attractiveness of a child’s dog to other children may, as a secondary gain, enhance the attractiveness of the child as a friend or playmate. Thus the dog acts as a social bridge between the disabled child and the typical child.
Calming An FASD/DE Service Dog’s presence offers a calming influence. Like children who are affected by ADHD, many children experiencing fetal alcohol or drug exposure have difficulty sitting still, staying at the table, or focusing. They may get easily frustrated or become highly anxious, and the dog can provide a calming presence. The Behavior disruption commands can be used in this situation to teach the child to self-regulate using the dog rather than escalating out of control.
Increased Independence An important role of the service dog is giving the child more self-confidence, which promotes independence. For children who also have attachment issues or fear of abandonment, the unconditional companionship offered by the child’s assistance dog is very healing. Often children with disabilities are generally dependent and may feel powerless due to their disability. The experience of some control over their assistance dog may provide a sense of mastery and self-assurance.
Stability Children living with brain damage or psychiatric disabilities may have difficulty in creating intimacy with others. Trust is a big issue for those with attachment disorders. An FASD/DE Service Dog becomes a form of “grounding” for a child with fetal alcohol or drug exposure. The dogs serve as an emotional and sometimes physical anchor for a child who lives in a world that feels disorienting and confusing. When unexpected change or transitions easily offset the emotional balance of a child…the consistency of an assistance dog’s behavior helps that child be more able to cope with the unexpected.
Empathy Children living with fetal alcohol and drug exposure, like children with autism, may have difficulty in putting themselves “in other people’s shoes.” Taking care of a service dog offers a chance to develop nurturance and practice people skills. These children may also have issues interpreting the facial expression of others, reading body language, or understanding behaviors so the opportunity to evoke compassion is critical. Developing empathy also pertains to a child’s sense of self and the feelings and emotional investment in something other than themselves.
A Special Bond Though the child may have issues socially with people, who are quite complicated; the relationship with a dog is simple. There are no hidden agendas, no confusing facial expression or voice tones, and the body language of the dog is straight forward. Humans are often seen as always “wanting something” the child may not be willing or able to do. The dog never wants anything but love, affection, and play, which make bonding and relationship building less complex. It is possible for the dog to become a stepping stone to understanding people.
For many people with Parkinson’s disease, pets provide both companionship and practical help with daily life. Service dogs trained to work with people with Parkinson’s can help their owners maintain balance while walking, or alert a family member after a fall. They can also be trained to help people with Parkinson’s move when experiencing gait freezing or stand up from a chair or after a fall.
Plus, owning any dog, service or not, automatically writes exercise into an owner’s schedule. Research shows that regular exercise helps many people with Parkinson’s disease improve symptoms. Running around with a cat also qualifies as exercise (though of course cats are better known as naptime companions!)
In general, studies link pet ownership with reducing signs of depression in people with chronic illnesses and with reducing loneliness in the elderly. In one study, residents of a nursing home felt less lonely after visiting with a dog alone than after visiting with a dog and other residents.
10 Benefits of Having a Service or Therapy Dog When You Have Parkinson’s
Service dogs are typically thought of as necessary companions for the visually impaired, but service and therapy dogs can be a practical solution for people with a variety of chronic illnesses. As well as being a trusted friend, service dogs can expand owners’ motor abilities, granting them new independence and allowing them to get more out of life. Here are just a few benefits of having a service dog, according to healthfitnessrevolution.com, mira.ca, the Lung Institute, and rover.com.
Wheelchair Assistance Service dogs can be trained to pull wheelchairs and to help wheelchairs up ramps and onto sidewalks. They can also help their owner move in and out of the wheelchair.
Anxiety Relief Having a chronic illness can bring about many emotional and mental health problems. The calming nature of service and therapy dogs can help ease anxiety and petting dogs is known to release endorphins and reduce stress.
Retrieve Items Service dogs can help chronic disease patients by picking up dropped items and fetching items from other rooms, a vital service for someone who may find getting around difficult and painful.
Lowers Blood Pressure and Heart Rate There is evidence that stroking a dog and sitting next to a dog lowers blood pressure and heart rate. The soothing effects of their body heat may also help with pain relief.
Improved Balance Walking with a service dog can help people with chronic diseases who have trouble with their balance. The dogs can also help prop their owners in place to prevent falls.
Good Distraction Looking after a service dog gives people something to focus on other than their illness. It can help patients develop positive routines and force them to get up and go out.
MORE: Twelve types of exercises suitable for Parkinson’s disease patients.
Exercise Service dogs, like all dogs, need exercise, so having a service dog encourages owners to get some exercise each day.
Attract Attention If you need help but are unable to draw attention yourself, your service dog will be able to bark loudly to attract attention from passersby or neighbors.
Promote Communication Dogs have been known to help promote communication and often prompt conversation from strangers when out and about.
Help Around the House Service dogs are able to help people around the house with simple tasks such as answering the doorbell, retrieving medication, opening and closing doors, and switching lights on and off. Daily Help. For people with Parkinson’s, service dogs can be trained to perform a variety of helpful tasks, ranging from daily assistance with routine activities to specialized support. Service dogs can help with:
• Enhancing your balance while walking or using stairs, reducing fear and risk of falls. Help maintain a comfortable walking rate or gait
• Help promote exercise through daily walks and playing
• Help with depression and anxiety
• Mitigating freezing by nudging a leg or gently pulling on a leash
• Providing support while getting in and out of chairs or getting up after a fall
• Retrieving and carrying objects, such as medication bottles or a dropped phone
• Assisting in dressing and undressing by fetching clothes or gently tugging off socks
• Opening doors and turning lights on or off
• Retrieving adaptive equipment or pulling a wheelchair
• Seeking help, pushing Lifeline call button or dialing 911 speed dial
• Alert and Interrupt involuntary muscle movement / corrected with voluntary dopamine petting and pressure point
• Medication alert, low and assist. Help to assure medications are taken (and on time)
• Muscle cramping, alert and assist. Sleeping to much or not well alert and assist
• Help with balance and forward momentum
• Prevent freezing and help initiate movement when freezing occurs
• Help prevent falls and get help if a fall occurs or assist with getting upright
• Provide quiet and genuine companionship