Parkinson's Walker Dog Pilot Program
|Pete and Miles enjoy Longwood Gardens
Parkinson's disease is an incurable neurological disorder that affects
more than one million Americans. Common symptoms of Parkinson's Disease include
tremor, rigidity of the muscles, impaired balance and coordination, and freezing in
place. Now, for the first time in the 70 year history of training dogs to assist
disabled people, man's best friend has been taught to assist patients with Parkinson's
Disease. This pilot program is a joint effort with Independence Dogs, the University of
Pennsylvania's Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center, and SmithKline Beecham
"As Parkinson's Disease progresses, many patients have difficulty walking which
often leads to a compromised quality of life. Two of the most severe symptoms that
patients typically experience are freezing, a phenomenon by which patients suddenly halt
movement and freeze in place requiring a cue to continue moving, and loss of balance which
causes frequent falls," said Matthew B. Stern, M.D. director of the Parkinson's
Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Pennsylvania
Hospital. "By training the dogs to tap a patient's foot with their paw, we
have been able to break the cycle associated with freezing. The dogs are also
trained to stay by the patient's side so that if they begin to stumble the patient can use
the dog's harness as a crutch to regain balance. These dogs have significantly
reduced my patient's tendency to fall. It is clear that these dogs do what no
medicine can." During the course of the Pilot Program Independence
Dogs has found that with the use of one of our specially trained Parkinson's Walker Dogs,
we have been able to reduce the occurrence of falls by 75 to 80 percent.
Independence Dogs are also trained to provide a counter-balanceing action. For
example, if a patient is stumbling to the right, the dog is trained to shift his entire
weight to the left, thus preventing a fall. If the patient should happen to
fall, the dogs are trained to stand and brace in front of the person so they can place
their hands in the proper position on the dog and pull themselves back up, much like a
person would do if there were a table in front of them. A third symptom is
dyskinesia, which is only rarely inherent in the symptomatologly of this insidious disease
but, rather, frequently a side affect of much needed and otherwise beneficial
medications. It is evidenced by severe involuntary spastic movements of both arms
and legs, and can and does occur while the patient is ambulatory, causing the Parkinsonian
to fall and become incapable of regaining a standing position without assistance.
All of our dogs when properly trained have been able to keep even severely dyskinetic
persons on their feet for long distances. Not only do these dogs prevent falls and
assistance if a fall occurs, they also provide pure and unconditional love to their
We are proud to announce the endorsement and financial support of the National
Parkinon's Foundation. Nathan Slewett, Chairman of the Board for the NPF, wrote an
article featuring IDI which will appear in the summer addition of the NPF. Many
thanks and our deepest appreciation to the foundation for their vote of confidence in our
breaks a freeze by touching Pete's foot while admiring the beauty of Longwood Gardens.
One of our Parkinson's Program teams is Pete and Miles. Pete came
to us all the way from Penn Valley, California. He is a retired law enforcement
officer who began noticing the tremors associated with Parkinson's Disease in 1982.
He was falling many times a day due to "freezing" and loss of balance.
Pete was using a cane and a walker to try to help steady himself, but these devices are no
longer used thanks to his devoted four-legged partner, Miles. Pete is now
falling less because of the counter-balance that Miles provides. And should Pete be
stuck in a "freeze," Miles is there to touch his foot and get him moving again.
During Pete's first week of training, his wife Bonnie told us, "I haven't seen
him walking this well in years." She also told us that even though Penn Valley
is filled with gold, she and Pete found their gold right here in Chadds Ford,
Pennsylvania, with Independence Dogs.
All dogs involved in our program receive approximately a year and a half of basic
training. As each dog's unique personality and temperament emerges, he or she is
carefully matched with a Parkinsonian. IDI trainers spend hundreds of hours training
the dogs to meet the patient's individual needs. The final training includes a
three-week training session during which the patient and the dog live and learn to work
together at IDI's facility in Chadds Ford, PA.
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