New Wave of Assistance Dogs and Patient Care

Posted on May 24 2012

They have long since been revered as "Man's Best Friend,” but dogs are doing more these days than just being our faithful companions. Many people have heard of seeing-eye dogs and therapy dogs, or even the dogs who can detect a person's passing, but now there is a new wave of assistance dogs merging into patient care. These dogs are specifically trained to alert their owner to acute medical issues, like low-blood sugar, on-coming seizures, and even a narcolepsy spell. It has also been found that dogs can help with autistic patients and pain management situations.

Today, many dogs are being trained to identify blood-sugar levels in Type I Diabetes and alert as the level dips. The alert allows a patient to access their medical kits in time to correct the problem. Dogs are also able to detect if there is a problem from the patient having used too much insulin. Dr. Claire Guest of Medical Detection Dogs, based in the UK, states that their assistance dogs are "trained to lick, nudge and stare at someone having a hypo [episode], to make sure the person knows they should fetch their medical kit.”

Autism is another disease that in many ways, dogs are better suited to handle than people. In cases of autistic children, dogs have been known to relieve anxiety and combative behaviors in a short time of interaction and residence in a home. Dogs for the Disabled, based out of England and Wales, trains their dogs to be comforting to autistic children by simply laying their heads in the child's lap. Many autistic children cannot be comforted by human contact, but respond well to that of a dog. Two of the U.S. groups involved with canine autism therapy include 4 Paws for Ability and the Northstar Foundation. These dogs can also be beneficial with irregular sleeping patterns and wandering, both of which afflict children with autism.

In adults with dementia, dogs can have a similar effect as they do on those with Autism. In working with dementia patients, dogs are trained to remind their companion of daily tasks including mealtimes, taking medications and when to call it a day. Relieving irritability and encouraging social interaction in Alzheimers patients, these dogs are companions that that allow a rather confused person a common topic to speak about with others. While much has been learned about dogs over the past few decades, the basics about them have not changed since an Alzheimers patient was a young child. No matter what level of the disease they are involved in, there is always something to converse over.

Dogs are also becoming utilized in the field of pain management. Oddly enough, small dogs make great little "hot-packs." One breed that is making a splash in this form of assistance is the Xoloitzcuintli. Known simply as the Xolo, this is an ancient Mexican breed that comes in both hairless and powder-puff varieties. This breed dates back over 3,000 years and memorials of them have been found in the tombs of the Colima, Mayan and Aztec tribes. The ancient tribes utilized these dogs as bed warmers because as their body temperature runs higher than a human's and due to their lack of fur, they turn into little radiators against us. This age-old trait has made this particular breed popular in therapeutic pain management, including pain in patients with fibromyalgia. Known as the "Velcro dog" for their need to be with their person most of the time, the Xolo lives anywhere from 15 – 20 years and requires minimal grooming. The perfect heating pad! The non-profit group, Paws for Comfort, specialized in placing Xolos with people in need of new pain management remedies and techniques.

People with epilepsy face many different challenges in leading a daily life. The uncertainty of safety or being able to leave the house without having an episode is a lot of stress for people to hold onto. Dogs have been making themselves useful to people with this disease as they are being trained to identify on-coming seizures and alert their person in time. Due to a dog's active sense of smell, it is believed that they are able to identify chemical changes in the body that indicate an on-coming seizure up to 40 minutes before the episode. This allows an epileptic to retrieve and take their medications early enough to stop the imminent seizure. There are also many dogs who are trained to either lay next to a person to stabilize them, or to run for help if a seizure does occur.

Dogs even help patients with Narcolepsy, a frustrating disease that can create anxiety in patients about their daily lives. Narcolepsy affects roughly 200,000 Americans, though not all forms are severe. This disease has similar effects to a person's psyche and daily activities as epilepsy has. These dogs are trained to lick and nudge until the person wakes up from wherever they have had their spell. If a person does not wake, the dog is trained to run for help. Some dogs are capable of identifying chemical changes in the body, much like with epilepsy, which signifies a spell coming on. This allows the dog to alert their person of the on-coming spell, so they can get to a safe place, reducing the risk of physical harm from falls.

To learn more about assistance dog programs in your area, visit the website and review their online directory. Listed by state, it includes a comprehensive collection of assistance dog groups and what they train dogs for. Also search for blogs or articles about assistance dogs and your particular needs. The answers and information you find may just surprise you!


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