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What Service Dogs Can Do for People With Epilepsy

A recent study revealed that service dogs can do more than just help during and after a seizure. Some dogs, it turns out, can detect seizures before they happen. A news article by Sci-News explains that service dogs can detect seizure odor.

Trained Service Dogs Respond to Scents

A study conducted by students in the University of Rennes in France took samples of body odor and scents from five patients during a seizure; and a different set of body odor samples from the same patients during normal activities, like running and cardio exercise. The dogs who participated in the study all learned to detect those odors released during a seizure attack. All of them responded to the body scent during a seizure, reacting with unease and unsettled behavior.

Exposure to both scents before the experiment was crucial to the results. As service dogs undergo puppy training to respond to seizures, it is important that these dogs can detect changes in scents as well. As such, patients suffering from the illness can prepare themselves for an attack and take medication before it worsens.

The Need for Epilepsy Management

epileptic patientEpilepsy, a chronic neurological disorder, affects over three million Americans of every age and gender. About 150,000 new people receive a diagnosis for this disease every year.

There is no cure, but people with epilepsy can manage their seizures through drug therapy, lifestyle changes to prevent triggers, and, in some cases, brain surgery.  Without some form of management, the daily tasks, from cooking to driving, can become dangerous for people with the condition. Yet 30-40 percent of patients remain resistant to treatment and continue to suffer through seizures every day.

Scientists and doctors found a way to help epileptic patients reduce seizure-related incidents through service dogs. Service dogs help people with disabilities or specific needs. These dogs undergo specific training to help patients during epileptic seizures by:

  • Cushioning a fall or keeping them in place in case the seizures result in bodily harm
  • Physically remove a person from a dangerous situation
  • Retrieving mobile phones or medication when the person can’t do so themselves
  • Rouse a person to consciousness after an attack
  • Asking for outside help

Service Dog-specific Training

A seizure response dog undergoes three specific areas of training, namely: manners, obedience and public access, and task training. Service dogs are expected to act on command and to react to specific situations without prompting, as they usually assist patients with chronic illnesses.

These dogs learn to ignore distractions and focus solely on their handler or owner. They learn to behave and obey commands quickly. They remain calm and collected even without the use of a leash. They learn to communicate with other people and ask for help when needed.

The emergence of recent studies that prove dogs can detect seizure odors will have a profound effect on the lives of those who have epilepsy. Patients can look for safe spaces to lie down or rest in even before an attack occurs to minimize its impact. And they can, in no small measure, go about their days with little anxiety because they have their furry friend by their side.

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