Questions for Care: Do You Need a Service Animal?

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If you’re a caretaker for a loved one with Parkinson’s, or if you’re someone struggling with it yourself, you’re probably all too aware of the daily struggles that come with the disease. This National Institute on Aging article enumerates shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with walking, balance, and coordination as some of the symptoms that arise from this brain disorder. Moreover, one of the biggest risk factors for Parkinson’s is age, making it difficult to manage worsening symptoms in our personal lives. This is where a service animal can possibly come in and make our lives much brighter and easier.

What is the role of a service animal?

A service animal is essentially a dog that is specially trained to do work or perform tasks to help out any individual with a disability, such as physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disabilities. Of course, this includes folks diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. According to the ADA service animals page, there are specific dogs that fit the official definition of a “service animal”. Guide dogs, hearing dogs, psychiatric service dogs, sensory signal dogs, and seizure response dogs are all considered service animals.

There can be several misconceptions about what a service animal really is. For one, many people confuse them with emotional support animals (ESAs). But this guide to support animals vs. service animals by SymptomFind outlines the major differences between the two. An ESA refers to any companion that comforts an individual with a mental illness such as anxiety or depression; these animals can range from cats, miniature horses, and even lizards. However, the ADA does not cover ESAs, as they serve a different purpose than service animals.

Service animals, depending on their type, can help perform daily tasks for their handler. For instance, a guide dog or hearing dog can serve as travel or alert tools for people with visual impairments and hearing disabilities. Meanwhile, a seizure response dog can assist persons with a seizure disorder by either standing guard over the person, or seeking help. By now, you’re probably getting the picture as to how a service animal can be a great pillar of support for you or your loved one with Parkinson’s.

How can a service animal help a Parkinson’s patient?

A furry friend can help overcome Parkinson’s physical, social, and emotional challenges as well. They are able to pick up, hold, and carry most objects pointed out to them, which makes daily tasks like opening a door, carrying a bag, picking up dropped items, and retrieving medicine much easier to accomplish. They can also provide balance support, push wheelchairs, and help dress and undress their owners. Moreover, they can encourage regular exercise, which is very essential to people with Parkinson’s. Exercise greatly helps improve coordination and mobility.

As for the social and emotional aspects, service animals can be wonderful companions. As I’ve written in ‘New Reality of Living with COVID-19’, isolation loneliness has been an issue for those who are socially distancing because they are chronically ill or suffering from a myriad of medical problems. Fortunately, studies have proven the positive influence of dogs on people suffering from depression and anxiety. Service animals can provide friendship, laughter, and relaxation. Moreover, these animals are amazing at assessing their handler’s emotional and physical state.

Overall, service animals can help you overcome the everyday problems that are hindering you from accomplishing your goals. Owning a trained service animal can increase your overall health and well-being, and soon you’ll find that your canine companion can open up new opportunities for independence and a better quality of life.

written by Melissa Farrell

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