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Medical Alert Dogs And Seizures

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According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2013, 4.3 million adults, age 18 years or older, and 750,000 children from 0 to 17 years have had a diagnosis of epilepsy or a seizure disorder.

A seizure is caused by chemical changes in the brain that result from a sudden surge of electrical activity. This causes a person to act and feel different for a short time. Some people black out, some fall, some have violent convulsions, some are not aware that a seizure is in progress. Most of the time an oncoming seizure is impossible to detect. It is frightening not knowing when a seizure will happen. For many adults and children, having seizures means isolation.

People who experience seizures have turned to medical alert dogs to predict when one is about to occur or to help them while it is happening.

A Seizure Response dog is trained to perform a task that will assist their owner when a seizure happens. There is a variety of tasks the dog can perform:

  • Find someone to help their owner
  • Bark to alert someone to help
  • Activate an emergency response system
  • Retrieve a phone or medication
  • Put its body between the seizing person and the floor to break their fall
  • Lie next to their owner to prevent injury and provide comfort
  • Act as a brace to help the person up
  • Physically remove their owner from an unsafe situation such as leading them from the middle of a street
  • Stimulate a person to help them "wake up" after a seizure

Medications can cause imbalance. A seizure response dog can help stabilize their owner when trained to walk beside them with a harness and leash.

A Seizure Alert dog is believed to have a special skill to detect a seizure before it happens. The dog senses the chemical change developing in the brain which changes the owners scent. Some alert dogs can sense an oncoming seizure as much as 30 minutes before it strikes. The dog alerts its owner through several different behaviors that are warning signals:

  • Barking
  • Urgently and constantly sniffing their owner
  • Whimpering
  • Jumping
  • Licking their owner
  • Circling their owner
  • Physically prevents their owner from moving
  • Physically makes their owner sit down on the floor and against a nearby wall

While many people rely on their alert dog, the scientific community is still researching for solid evidence that dogs really can detect a seizure. Some studies have indicated that dogs only develop the alert skill after being with their owners for a considerable amount of time, such as months or even years.

A survey of 77 people between the ages of 30 and 60, who had epilepsy, was conducted in 1998 by Roger Peep, PhD., an associate professor in the Department of Physiological Sciences at the University of Florida. Many of the people surveyed had dogs for companionship. Ten percent claimed their dogs seemed to know when they were going to have a seizure. Twenty eight percent claimed their dogs stayed with them during a seizure.

As a result of the survey, the Epilepsy Foundation urges those seeking a seizure alert dog to be prudent when looking at programs that offer to train or provide seizure predicting canines.

Both adults and children who suffer from seizures feel their medical alert dog provides security. They are no longer afraid of going out into the world because their dog makes them feel safe and confident. Freedom to go out alone, to live alone, and to feel less anxiety has improved the quality of life for adult seizure sufferers. Observers have found that children, in particular, experience fewer seizures and feel less stress when their seizure alert dog is beside them. Regardless of the dog's service, as a seizure response or seizure alert dog, those who need them are living better lives.

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