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  • Posted February 29, 2024

Service Dogs May Lessen Seizure Frequency in Folks With Epilepsy

Perhaps by reducing anxiety, a service dog can help reduce seizures in people with tough-to-treat epilepsy, a new study finds.

A group of 25 study participants had an average 31% fewer seizures after months of owning a service dog trained to help people with epilepsy.

And seven of those patients experienced a 50% to 100% reduction in seizures, researchers report in the Feb. 28 issue of the journal Neurology

Seizure dogs are trained to recognize seizure activity by observing the movements and sounds of their owners.

The dogs can be trained to activate an alarm, fetch medication or a phone, block the patient's movement or change the person's body position. They also provide companionship as a seizure subsides, easing their owner's disorientation and upset.

These new findings show that service dogs can also help epileptics avoid seizures in the first place, researchers said.

"The unpredictable nature of seizures is often the most disabling aspect of epilepsy,"said researcher Valerie van Hezik-Wester, a postdoctoral investigator with Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

"The tasks that these dogs perform -- along with their companionship -- may reduce seizure-related anxiety, also potentially reducing seizures caused by stress, the most common trigger for seizures,"van Hezik-Wester said in a journal news release.

For the study, researchers recruited people with treatment-resistant epilepsy who had a high risk of seizure-related injuries.

"Despite the development of numerous anti-seizure medications over the past 15 years, up to 30% of people with epilepsy experience persistent seizures,"van Hezik-Wester noted.

All participants were randomly assigned a seizure dog. They could choose between training a puppy in their own home with coaching assistance, or receiving a dog already trained in socialization and obedience that only needed to learn epilepsy-specific tasks.

The participants kept a diary of the frequency and types of seizures they had, and filled out questionnaires every three months on their health and well-being. They were followed for up to three years.

At the start of the study, patients had an average of 115 seizures a month, researchers said.

After being partnered with a seizure dog, that average dropped to 73 seizures a month, results show.

Patients' number of days without seizures also increased, from 11 a month before to 15 a month after working with a seizure dog.

"These findings show that seizure dogs can help people with epilepsy,"said van Hezik-Wester.

"However, we also found that this partnership with seizure dogs might not be the right fit for everyone, as some people discontinued their participation in this program,"van Hezik-Wester added. "More research is needed to better understand which people can benefit from working with seizure dogs."

More information

The Epilepsy Foundation has more about seizure dogs.

SOURCE: American Academy of Neurology, news release, Feb. 28, 2024

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