By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 15 January 2012)
Service dogs have been trained to fulfill a variety of needs, including guiding the blind, pulling wheelchairs, and assisting those who suffer from epileptic seizures. In recent years, specially trained assistance dogs have proven particularly valuable for those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease.
Mobility Assistance Dogs for Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, debilitating neurological disorder. Two of the more unpleasant symptoms, freezing and falling, may cause Parkinson’s sufferers to become reclusive and sedentary, but specially trained service dogs can help with these problems.
Freezing is a temporarily paralysis that afflicts the Parkinson’s sufferer at random intervals. During a freeze, the individual cannot move her feet, a sensation that has been described as having one’s feet stuck in cement. If the rest of the person’s body keeps moving after her feet freeze, she may fall. It is not yet known exactly what causes the Parkinson’s sufferer to freeze, but often all it takes to break the freeze is a gentle nudge. Amazingly, a dog can unfreeze the individual simply by touching his paw to the person’s foot.
A mobility assistance dog can be trained to move his body in front of the person who is starting to fall in an attempt to prop her up. If the person does fall, the dog can assist her in getting up afterward by standing still and bracing himself, thus acting as a support so that she can haul herself to her feet. Dogs trained for this purpose are large and strong, and wear special harnesses.
Because coordinated movements become increasingly difficult for the Parkinson’s sufferer, a service dog can fulfill other needs as well, such as retrieving objects, opening and closing doors, operating alarms, and turning lights on and off, as well as being there when the person needs someone to lean on. Assistance dogs can even be trained press a button that dials 911 in case of accident or other emergency.
By assisting with day-to-day tasks and helping protect against falls and resulting injuries, service dogs can help Parkinson’s sufferers maintain their independence and stay active. Owners also benefit from the emotional support and companionship such dogs provide.
An additional benefit of a service dog is that he prevents the Parkinson’s sufferer from being mistaken for a drunk, a common problem due to the individual’s shuffling gait and slurred speech. When the person with Parkinson’s has an assistance dog with her, people understand that she suffers from a disability rather than intoxication.
Where to Obtain Mobility Assistance Dogs
Training service dogs is expensive and time-consuming, generally costing between $5,000 and $25,000 and taking 6 months to a couple of years. However, there are charitable organizations that provide assistance for qualifying individuals.
To learn more about assistance dogs and where to obtain them, visit the Delta Society and the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP).
For more dog articles, see the main Dogs page.
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