Can Service Dogs Help Epilepsy Patients?
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3.5 million Americans suffer from epilepsy. One-third of those people live with seizures because
treatments don’t provide the control they need. My case is mild as far as epilepsy is concerned: the
cause is known, and after months of trial and error, I found a treatment that works. I am dutiful
about following my treatment plan, but I know that my body’s response to it could change at any
time. The life of a person with intractable epilepsy, a case that can not be controlled with available
treatment, is much more difficult: they may find themselves dependent on others to get through
daily life, or even to get through a night’s sleep.
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I have long heard about dogs that can alert patients to a coming seizure or to respond to one after
the fact, so I thought that in honor of November’s Epilepsy Awareness Month I should investigate a
bit to see what they are all about. The experience of a seizure is different for all of us: some people
have known triggers that we can avoid. Others can feel a seizure coming on before it actually begins
and relocate to a safe space. Many, however, are surprised by seizures. After one, a person may be
unconscious or severely disoriented. So I wonder, could a service dog help a person with severe
epilepsy to live a safer and more active life?
In the case of seizure detection dogs, the Epilepsy Foundation cautions that much of the evidence
has been anecdotal, inconsistent and lacked the rigor of large, controlled studies. Thankfully, there is
continued research interest in this area. Journals such as Seizure, Neurology, and Epilepsy and
Behavior have published small studies on this behavior in dogs. They are amazing creatures with
tremendous talents, and these scie