How do assistance dogs improve quality of life for people with chronic health conditions?

Sunrise Senior Living  |  August 7, 2017

Somewhere between 36 and 44 percent of U.S. households own a dog, according to the Humane Society

In two-thirds of those households, the dog is considered a member of the family. For people with chronic health conditions, it’s a safe bet to say a dog is more than just a family member.

If it’s an assistance dog, it can be a life-changer, too.

In celebration of National Assistance Dog Week, we’re here to share some incredible facts about assistance dogs and how they can improve quality of life.

Part of the Caregiving Team: Assistance Dogs

For older Americans who have chronic health conditions, assistance dogs can play a vital role on their caregiving team. It’s no secret that pets can help all of us in amazing ways, physically and mentally. But for people with chronic issues like mobility problems, seizures, or neurological disorders, assistance dogs can be essential to feeling safe, secure, and as independent as possible.

Assistance Dogs vs. Service Dogs

First, what’s an assistance dog, and how is it different from a service dog?

‘Assistance dog’ is the general term for dogs that help people. They may provide any number of services, including companionship, stress relief, assistance with tasks of daily living, or medical alerts.

Service dogs, on the other hand, are a special type of assistance dog. They’re trained to help people who have physical disabilities, neurological disorders, or chronic illnesses.

Types of Assistance dogs include:

  1. Service dogs
    1. Mobility assistance dogs
    2. Seizure alert dogs
    3. Seizure response dogs
    4. Service dogs for children with autism
    5. Hearing dogs
  2. Psychiatric service dogs
  3. Companion dogs (an unofficial designation)

Assistance Dogs Offer Freedom and Independence

Assistance dogs trained to help people with mobility issues (technically ‘service dogs’) can open up new worlds with the support they provide. For someone who uses a wheelchair to get around, one major obstacle can be dropping things. People who’ve experienced this type of frustration describe it as a feeling of desperation.

That’s where assistance dogs come in. Relying on an assistance dog who can pick things up for you is always better than having to ask someone else for help. They can open doors, too—both literally and figuratively!

Assistance dogs can also help people get undressed. They’re trained to pull clothing off, which is especially helpful if your mobility problem involves your arms or back.

They Also Help During Seizures

For people with health conditions like epilepsy, a seizure response dog can help tremendously. These dogs are trained to summon or provide stimulation if there’s a seizure. In addition, there are seizure alert dogs. They can actually sense the early warning signs of seizures and warn their master to move to a safe place.

Assistance Dogs and Alzheimer’s

Assistance dogs have also been extremely helpful for older adults who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Sometimes vision worsens as the disease progresses, so dogs can help by accompanying someone on walks.

They can also help when someone is confused, by guiding them home if they get lost. As the disease progresses, an assistance dog can be a calming influence making their human companion feel more secure and relaxed.

Finally, assistance dogs can adapt to their partner’s habits over time. This helps them anticipate and react to their human’s needs.

Dogs at Sunrise Communities

Almost everyone benefits from interacting with dogs (and cats). That’s why all Sunrise Senior Living communities welcome residents to bring their own pets. We even have full-time ‘resident’ dogs and cats at all our senior communities!

If you’re searching for a community where you can bring your beloved four-legged companion to live with you, call us at 888-434-4648 to speak with a senior living counselor and learn more about pets at Sunrise!