It is estimated that about 3 million people are afflicted with narcolepsy worldwide. While it is not as common as many other conditions, it is still very serious and can make it difficult for people to live their lives in peace. Unfortunately, there is no cure for narcolepsy, however, there are several treatment options available to help manage the symptoms.
Surprisingly, service dogs are one of these options. But how can service dogs help a person suffering from narcolepsy? And what exactly is narcolepsy? We will answer all of these questions and more in this helpful guide!
What is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a chronic brain disorder that involves poor control of sleep-wake cycles. People with narcolepsy experience extreme daytime sleepiness which manifests itself in sudden and uncontrollable bouts of sleep that can last up to several minutes. Severe bouts of depression and anxiety are other common consequences experienced by those who suffer from narcolepsy.
As stated previously, there is no cure for narcolepsy. The only options right now are stimulants and drugs that induce a deep sleep at night and help alleviate tiredness during the day. Additionally, service dogs have proven to be a unique solution and a great asset for people who suffer from the disorder and simply want to live a “normal life.”
How Can Service Dogs Help With Narcolepsy?
Service dogs can truly make a huge difference in a person’s life; this is especially true for those who suffer from narcolepsy. Dogs trained for the disorder can sense when a narcoleptic episode is about to occur and warn the owner to sit or lie down by barking, nudging, or licking. In short, service dogs can become an indispensable companion for those with narcolepsy.
Service dogs trained for Narcolepsy can help by:
- Warning if the afflicted person is about to have an episode.
- Ending the episode with a face lick.
- Fetching help if the owner injures themselves while suddenly falling asleep.
- Waking the owner up if they sleep through the alarm clock.
Also, some people with narcolepsy suffer from extreme fatigue and lack of sleep which can bring on bouts of depression and anxiety. A dog can be trained to apply pressure therapy and hugs. This is a simple act of pushing against a person during panic attacks and high stress. This act lowers the heart rate and blood pressure and allows for a quicker recovery.
Having a service dog can also help motivate people to do small exercises such as walking and other low-energy activities. These kinds of activities can help fight against the imbalance caused by narcolepsy. A person afflicted with narcolepsy will have a better chance of combating fatigue by owning such a delightful companion.
Some narcolepsy sufferers even credit service dogs with saving their lives. The support of having a friend by your side at all times can be immensely reassuring. Although dogs cannot predict when someone is about to fall asleep suddenly (like they can with a seizure), it is possible that a dog can come to recognize triggers and hurry to their owner’s side before they collapse.
When facing hypnagogic hallucinations, just seeing your dog next to you can help a person rationalize that the hallucinations are not real. Dogs can also help get narcolepsy sufferers home safe if one becomes overcome with sleepiness. A service dog can take the lead and guide the owner home with the proper commands.
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Finally, a service dog can even be trained to alert you in the morning to make sure that you wake up on time and get ready for work or do other daily activities. They can also remind their owners to take the medication needed to stay awake. Taking medication daily and on time is a key factor in fighting the symptoms of narcolepsy. While these actions may seem small, they make all the difference in the world to someone with narcolepsy.
In short, service dogs are able to perform some pretty amazing tasks to help those with narcolepsy live a healthy and safe life. Obviously, service dogs cannot cure the disease or even alleviate the primary symptom (suddenly falling asleep), but they can help keep their owner safe and comforted when they need it the most.
What is a Service Dog?
Service dogs can improve the lives of people afflicted with a wide range of disabilities, whether they are physical, neurological, or psychiatric. Service dogs can be trained to mitigate symptoms disabilities like:
- Anxiety disorders
- Hearing Impairment
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS or PTSD)
- Severe Allergies
- Spinal Cord Injuries
- Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).
These dogs can be custom trained based on a person’s unique needs. The following are a few common examples:
Service dogs can provide alerts:
- To people approaching
- As a response to your name being called or someone trying to get your attention
- For specific sounds, such as alarms, ringtones, sirens, or vehicles backing up
- For specific smells, such as smoke or gas
- Seeking help from someone else when you are having a medical emergency
- Pressing a medical alert button for designated emergency contact
Services dogs can keep you calm by:
- Applying or receiving deep pressure therapeutically
- Cuddling on cue
- Interrupting repetitive movements or compulsive behaviors
- Leading you to an uncrowded area or place to sit down
- Responding to an anxiety or panic attack
- Interrupting nightmares or night terrors
Service dogs can help detect:
- Allergens, such as specific foods or triggering odors
- Low blood sugar levels
- The presence or absence of people in a designated area or location
- Changes in cortisol levels
Service dogs can provide support in:
- Retrieving personal items, such as keys or cell phones
- Carrying items for you
- Opening, holding, and closing doors
- Bringing medication to you at a designated time
- Turning on and off lights
- Providing a foundation to steady yourself or helping you stand up
- Tugging or holding clothing, socks, and shoes to assist with dressing and undressing
- Pulling to assist manual wheelchair propulsion
It is important to note the differences between service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals. Service animals (typically dogs) have been trained to perform specific tasks that a person is incapable of performing on their own. For this reason, service animals are allowed in public spaces where other animals (possibly including emotional support animals) may not be allowed to go.
Alternatively, emotional support animals are not trained in specific tasks, nor are there as many limitations on the types of animals that qualify; dogs, cats, birds, and even miniature horses can qualify as emotional support animals. In the United States, the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carriers Access Act both cover the legal definitions of emotional support animals. These laws help protect emotional support animals and their owners when attempting to rent a living space or travel by air. So, if you or someone close to you suffers from asthma, but the condition is not considered to be severe, an emotional support animal may be the best option for you.
Those dealing with asthma also have the option of seeking treatment with a therapy dog, but this is a little more complicated, as therapy animals are often used exclusively in treatment facilities. To put it simply, a therapy dog is any dog that meets certain criteria required to provide psychological and emotional support to an individual. However, by this definition, most dogs would probably qualify. Many people adopt dogs for this very purpose: to provide emotional support and companionship. In reality, therapy dogs are used for specific intervention treatments for those suffering any kind of mental pain or debilitation.
Therapy dogs can be used for a variety of circumstances. For example, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and hospice care facilities often use therapy dogs to combat loneliness and depression among the residents. When children (or adults) suffer the loss of a close family member, therapy dogs are a great way to encourage healing and help the individual cope with emotional trauma.
It is important to note that there are different kinds of therapy dogs that all serve different purposes. Generally, therapy dogs can be divided into three categories:
- Therapeutic Visitation Dogs – This is the most common type of therapy dog. These pets and their owners visit hospitals, mental health facilities, and other healthcare centers to prevent patients from feeling lonely, disconnected, or hopeless.
- Animal Assisted Therapy Dog – This type of therapy dog is generally reserved for rehabilitation clinics. Under the guidance of a trained physiotherapist, these dogs help patients regain mobility through various motor-control activities.
- Facility Therapy Dog – These dogs are often used exclusively in elderly care facilities to alert staff of any issues with the patients. They also provide companionship to the residents, many of whom do not have any living friends or relatives outside of the facility.
How To Qualify For A Service Dog If You Have Narcolepsy
In order to obtain a service dog, you must meet the following criteria:
- Be at least 12 years of age, unless a service dog is needed for a child with autism (then the age is 6-12).
- Have a diagnosed physical disability, an anxiety disorder such as PTSD, debilitating chronic illness, or neurological disorder affecting at least one limb.
- Reside in a stable home environment.
- Be physically and cognitively capable of participating in the process of training, up to one hour per day.
- Be able to independently command and handle a service dog.
- Be able to meet the physical, emotional, and financial needs of a service dog.
- Have no other dog in the home (other animals as pets are permitted).
What It Costs To Get A Service Dog
The price to obtain one of these animals is around $10,000- $20,000. If you think you are a good candidate and could greatly benefit from having a narcolepsy alert dog in your life, reach out to a service animal company. Unlike most service animal companies, there typically isn’t a waitlist that allows you to obtain the animal for little to no cost. These animals are very specialized, but they are not considered a necessary component of an individual’s life. This doesn’t mean that you can’t try and raise the funds on your own, you just won’t receive it through insurance or the company for free.
Due to the high costs and stringent requirements for obtaining a service dog, you may prefer to get an emotional support animal instead. Emotional support animals are not trained to complete specific tasks for you, but they can help with depression and anxiety, at a fraction of the cost of a service animal. In any case, you will need to consult with your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for your condition.