The elderly face a wide range of medical challenges, including difficulties with mobility, vision, and hearing. As the Baby Boomer generation reaches and passes retirement age, there is an ever-increasing need for better treatment options, facilities, and services for the elderly. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for conditions related to age, but there are various medications and services to help keep the elderly comfortable and happy in their golden years.
It is also important to remember that there are many options besides pharmaceutical drugs for the elderly. Animal lovers who suffer from age-related ailments often ask if they would be eligible to have a service dog to help manage their symptoms. Thankfully, the answer is yes; you can absolutely get a service dog for numerous physical and mental conditions as a result of aging.
What are Service Dogs?
You may hear service dogs and think that it is one of the animals that assist cops or military personnel. Dogs can be trained to do this, but these types of dogs aren’t the service dogs we are referring to. Service dogs encompass a wide array of dogs to help support those with mental illness and/or physical disabilities.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Service Animals are defined as follows:
“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.
Some State and local laws also define ‘service animal’ more broadly than the ADA does.”
Thanks to the ADA, service dogs are granted certain protections by law. Many of these protections relate to where you can and cannot go with a service dog, as well as which questions certain people can and cannot ask about your condition. The ADA provides the following guidelines related to location:
“Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital, it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.”
Service dogs are specifically trained to help make the day-to-day life of their owners better and alleviate the burden of their condition. These animals can help with different aspects of everyday life for their owner, from retrieving hard to reach items to physically supporting a person with impaired motor skills.
Since they must provide excellent support round the clock, service dogs are truly put to the test. They have to make it through extensive training before they can officially become a service dog. This helps give individuals some peace of mind, knowing that their companion is extremely well trained and reliable.
Standards and Training for Service Dogs
As stated above, service dogs must meet certain criteria to qualify. A service dog will need to possess the following qualifications:
- Temperament – Service dogs must be well-tempered. This means that they are not quick to anger, and do not get stressed out easily. They should enjoy being touched, and not react aggressively if a patient mishandles them. While some of these behaviors can be trained, dogs will need to be inherently calm to some degree.
- Shedding – Service dogs should not shed excessively. Shedding can be a major problem for people with allergies, and it creates an extra mess that owners would need to clean up. Service dogs exist to brighten people’s day, not cause more problems.
- Social – Service dogs MUST be social and friendly. This is perhaps the most important requirement, as they will need to cheer people up when they need it the most. However, dogs that are overly energetic can be too rough with certain individuals (especially the elderly), so service dogs must be social, but not overly-enthusiastic.
- Adapting – Service dogs will need to adapt to various environments. Sometimes they may need to provide support while there is a lot of noise going on, and other times they may need to help patients in cramped living spaces. In any case, they will need to be comfortable, no matter the setting. A dog that is uncomfortable might become shy or even aggressive, which could cause unnecessary harm to their owners.
However, these are not the only criteria that service animals must meet. Once it is determined that a given animal checks all the boxes listed above, they will need to undergo training. The type of training that a service animal needs will depend on the type of service animal. Generally, there are 8 types of service dogs, each with their own required skill sets:
- Guide dog
- Hearing dog
- Diabetic alert dog
- Mobility assistance dog
- Seizure response dog
- Autism support dog
- Allergy detection dog
- Psychiatric service dog
How Do Service Dogs Help the Elderly?
A service dog can help the elderly in a variety of ways. However, the type of services will depend on the individual needs of the owner. So, let’s take a look at a few of the most common types of service dogs for the elderly:
Vision problems are extremely common among the elderly. As we age, our eyes age with us, leading to conditions like presbyopia, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. Guide dogs are used to help people with visual impairments, by providing physical support when moving around, retrieving items, and warning their owner of any danger.
Much like vision, hearing tends to get worse as we age. While not everyone will completely lose their hearing, many elderly people suffer severe hearing loss that can make it difficult to communicate and carry out daily tasks. Hearing dogs help those with hearing impairments by alerting their owner if the phone rings, something falls down, someone is ringing the doorbell, if there is an intruder or other similar situations. These dogs are trained to know that barking is not an effective way to get their owner’s attention, and so they will paw or otherwise make physical contact with their owner instead.
Mobility Assistance Dog
Much like guide dogs, mobility assistance dogs help their owners get around. However, these dogs are specifically trained to assist people who cannot move freely on their own, like those in wheelchairs. Mobility assistance dogs can help open doors, retrieve hard to reach items, and get help if their owner has fallen down.
How to Get a Service Dog
To get a service dog, the owner must meet several criteria. First, the owner must have a physical or mental disability that affects their day-to-day life and must be able to show that the animal can provide a service that benefits the person’s specific illness. You will need to see a physician to request the recommendation needed to apply for a service dog. There are specific requirements in place that the individual must meet before they can bring home a furry companion.
- You must have a physical disability, specific illness, or disorder.
- You need to be present during your dog’s training.
- You must still be able to give commands and care for your dog.
- Your home environment must be stable.
- You need a recommendation letter from your healthcare provider.
- You must have the necessary finances to care for the dog.
Dog owners must be able to command and care for their service dog independently and provide a stable home environment for their animals. Often, owners are required to be a part of their service dog’s training as well.
How Much Does A Service Dog Cost
The help provided by a service dog may be invaluable to you, but the toll on your bank account may cause you to question if it is really necessary.
Service dogs are expensive because of the training that is involved to get them ready to care for their owners. Training could cost anywhere between $30-$40,000. On top of this cost, you have costs of food, grooming and veterinary visits each year. Some organizations will help individuals receive service dogs at little to no cost through fundraising. So, if cost is an issue for you, you aren’t immediately ruled out.
Service dogs can change your life and it is only fitting that every individual in need can have access to this opportunity.
Can Your Dog Become My Service Animal
You may already have a dog and think that you can put it through training to become your service animal, but this isn’t how it works. Dogs that have already been trained as pets can’t be trained as service animals.
What If You Don’t Qualify For A Service Dog
Some individuals may greatly benefit from having a trained animal companion, but they may not meet the specific requirements for a service dog.
These individuals aren’t out of luck. They still have the possibility of being able to obtain an emotional support dog. In most cases, all that is needed to obtain an emotional support dog is a letter from your medical professional. It may sound silly, but this letter is literally a prescription for an emotional support animal. This way, you can show that your animal is a necessity for your mental well being.
Acquiring A Service Dog for the Elderly
There are significant benefits to having a service dog if you or someone you love suffers from age-related ailments. If you are looking for a way to feel a bit more independent, a service dog is a major step in the right direction. Additionally, service dogs can perform vital tasks such as retrieving items, alerting others in the event of an emergency, and perhaps most importantly, providing companionship and emotional support.
If you and your doctor agree that a service dog or emotional support animal could benefit you and help make your life more comfortable, then you can continue the process of obtaining your animal. That’s where we come in. The experts at usserviceanimals.org know how much a service dog or ESA can mean to someone in need. Additionally, we understand the legal process that you must go through to qualify for one of these animals, and we can help you every step of the way. To learn more about qualifying for a service dog or emotional support animal, or if you simply have questions about how these animals can benefit you or a loved one, feel free to contact us directly at this link.