Effects of Assistance Dogs on Persons with Mobility or Hearing Impairments: A Pilot Study

By Rintala, Diana H.; Matamoros, Rebeca et al. | Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development, May 2008 | Go to article overview

Effects of Assistance Dogs on Persons with Mobility or Hearing Impairments: A Pilot Study


Rintala, Diana H., Matamoros, Rebeca, Seitz, Laura L., Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development


INTRODUCTION

Service dogs and hearing dogs are two types of assistance dogs. Service dogs help persons with mobility impairments achieve an optimal level of functional independence in activities of daily living and enhance participation in society. These dogs are trained to perform a variety of tasks, such as pulling wheelchairs, opening doors, turning on light switches, retrieving the telephone, and picking up objects such as keys. A recent study of veterans with spinal cord injuries revealed that 30 percent were interested in obtaining a service dog [1]. Hearing dogs alert persons with hearing impairments to sounds, thereby increasing these persons' safety and social interactions. The dogs are trained to alert the recipient to environmental sounds such as alarm clocks, kitchen timers, whistling teakettles, doorbells and knockers, presence of other persons, someone calling the recipient's name, smoke and fire alarms, and approaching vehicles. Only a few studies that assessed outcomes associated with obtaining an assistance dog have been published. While many studies found a positive relationship between having an assistance dog and various outcome measures, a majority of the studies were retrospective and offered limited evidence for the positive effects of assistance dogs on the lives of individuals with disabilities. Furthermore, the findings of the few studies that have been completed demonstrated various inconsistencies.

Social Functioning

Early scientific studies of the effects of service dogs focused on social aspects. Both adults and children who were partnered with service dogs received more social acknowledgement from strangers than individuals who were not partnered with service dogs [2-3]. In several self-report studies, participants with service dogs reported improvements in their social functioning [4-7]. Hearing dog users have shown similar improvements in social functioning, including increased adaptability in social situations, improved social interactions with the hearing community, and a better social life [8-11].

Psychological Functioning

Retrospective studies of individuals who had obtained a service dog also found that respondents reported positive changes in psychological functioning [4-5,7]. Valentine et al. found that adults with mobility impairments reported feeling more independent (90%), having higher self-esteem (80%), feeling more content (80%), and being more assertive (80%) [5]. In a pre-post study, Rintala and colleagues found that scores on a standardized self-esteem scale increased significantly from before placement to after placement of a service dog, with a notable but nonsignificant decrease in depressive symptomatology [6]. On the other hand, cross-sectional studies comparing individuals who obtained a service dog with individuals who were waiting to obtain a service dog generally found no differences in measures of self-esteem or self-concept [12-14]. In a retrospective study of 38 hearing dog owners, Hart et al. found that recipients of hearing dogs reported feeling less lonely and less stressed than before having the dog [9]. In another retrospective study of 550 hearing dog owners, Mowry et al. found that recipients reported more self-confidence, less depression, and less loneliness than before having a hearing dog [11]. In a longitudinal prospective study, Guest et al. found significant improvements in mood, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and fearfulness [10]. On the other hand, Gilbey found no difference in reported loneliness before and after subjects received a hearing dog [15].

Activities of Daily Living

In retrospective studies of individuals partnered with service dogs, participants reported improvements in carrying out tasks of daily living. Enhanced functioning was reported in self-care, chores around the home, and mobility in the home and community [4,6-7,12,16]. …

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