According to the Rand Center for Military Health Policy Research, 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and these vets are increasingly turning to alternative therapies to manage their symptoms. One of the most popular is service dogs.
Despite the demand, however, more study is needed to determine whether service dogs — which require rigorous training that can take months and cost thousands of dollars — are effective at helping veterans cope. Dr. Ashli Owen-Smith, assistant professor of health policy and behavioral sciences in the Georgia State University School of Public Health, is one of those adding to the growing body of research. In a recent study, she found that trained service dogs can help reduce symptoms of stress — including suicidal thoughts — among U.S. military veterans.
Dr. Owen-Smith and her collaborators at Kaiser Permanente interviewed and observed 41 veterans in Oregon and Georgia with service dogs, along with eight caregivers recruited through service dog training agencies. Participants reported their service dogs reduced hyper-vigilance, a state of increased alertness that can bring about heightened anxiety and lead to exhaustion.
The service dogs also woke veterans from nightmares, which resulted in better and longer sleep. In addition, the researchers found service dogs improved veterans’ emotional connection with others, community participation and physical activity, while reducing suicidal impulses and medication use.Friday Letter Submission, Publish on June 21