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How Do Seizure Dogs Help People with Epilepsy?
(OCTOBER 2013) For people living with epilepsy, the risks associated with seizures are a constant concern. Collapsing to the ground and uncontrollably thrashing one’s body is inherently dangerous. Thousands of epileptics suffer some sort of seizure-related injury each year. To help prevent these injuries and alert others for aid when needed, seizure dogs are increasingly popular service animals.
Seizure dogs (or seizure response dogs or seizure alert dogs) are specially trained to identify when someone is in the early stages of a seizure and to take actions to protect them.
Generally, seizure dogs assist during a seizure by barking to alert others to come help. They can also be trained to press buttons or levers in the home in order to notify 911. Some seizure dogs will lay on the floor with their body pressed against their owner during a seizure in order to limit his or her flailing. With children who suffer from epilepsy, these service animals are often trained to position their bodies such that the child will fall on them instead of directly on the floor, cushioning the fall.
Seizure dogs are truly amazing animals. In addition to seizure-related behaviors, they can also be trained to assist in other ways around the home when and if owners have limitations.
Colise Johnson of Portland, Oregon has both epilepsy and cerebral palsy, causing her to use a wheelchair and to constantly wear a helmet to protect against possible seizure-related falls. She credits her seizure response dog, a golden retriever named Ben, with making her life easier in multiple ways. Not only is Ben trained to assist when Colise has a seizure, he’s also capable of turning on and off lights, opening doors, retrieving items from around the house and more.
In a CNN interview, Colise said, “Having epilepsy and cerebral palsy is kind of like having a nonstop roller coaster ride, you never know what's going to happen, but with him, he slows the ride down so it’s manageable.”
Some seizure dogs are even reportedly able to detect seizures and alert their owners before they occur, although such claims are a bit controversial. Some experts say this is simply not possible, while trainers and people who have lived with these dogs claim to have seen it firsthand. There are reports of seizure dogs notifying their owners up to 20-40 minutes in advance that a seizure is imminent. Still, people are warned to be wary of trainers who claim to be able to instill this behavior.
Seizure response dogs can be quite expensive. Trainers may charge up to $20,000 per animal, but there are several organizations that might be willing to supplement some of the costs.
If you have a loved one with epilepsy, it’s important to know how to assist in the event of a seizure. You might also want to purchase a medical alert bracelet to provide important medical information about their condition in the event that they need help when you’re not nearby.