According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 61 million Americans are living with disabilities. Of those, about 12% have ambulatory disabilities that significantly impact their daily lives.
While there is ample research suggesting that service dogs can drastically improve quality of life among individuals who have disabilities, only 500,000 service dogs currently help people across the country. Putnam Service Dogs is committed to helping people with ambulatory disabilities overcome psychological and social hurdles and enjoy the benefits of a service dog in their lives.
Psychological and Social Factors that Influence Quality of Life
Individuals living with ambulatory disabilities face more than just physical challenges. There are very real psychological and social challenges that occur alongside disability. Some of these are attitudinal in nature, but others stem from physical limitations and lack of accessibility.
Common Psychological Challenges
Many individuals with ambulatory disabilities experience psychological challenges to some degree. These may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Anxiety and Stress: Ambulatory disabilities can lead to a host of changes to everyday life. The anxiety and stress associated with completing basic daily tasks, maintaining a career, and simply coping with a disability can be overwhelming.
- Depression: Low self-esteem, hopelessness, and intrusive negative thoughts can lead to long-lasting depression. The inability to perform tasks that others can do quite easily can lead to a feeling of incapability.
- Grief: In many cases, ambulatory disabilities are the result of a sudden injury or illness. Many people who have these disabilities grieve the loss of abilities, careers, hobbies, and even their identities.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Often, sudden disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) go hand-in-hand. The traumatic events that led to or caused the disability can lead to serious psychological changes.
- Anger: Individuals with disabilities may feel angry with the people involved in the event that led to the disability. In other cases, they may grow frustrated with the systems that are in place to help them adjust.
Social Hurdles for People with Disabilities
Aside from the many psychological challenges related to physical disabilities, many individuals also experience social hurdles such as loneliness, lack of accessibility, and social stigma. The social benefits of a service dog can help with these hurdles.
- Loneliness: For someone with a disability, the disability itself is the only constant in their life. It can be difficult for someone living with a disability to open up to friends and family about what they are experiencing. A study conducted by the British Red Cross found that about 61% of adults with disabilities report being chronically lonely. In children and teens experiencing disability, that number climbs to 70%.
- Loss of Independence: Many people with ambulatory disabilities experience a loss of independence that impacts their social lives. They may feel like burdens for asking friends and family for help, and they may feel unworthy of experiencing social events due to their dependence on others.
- Lack of Accessibility: Though the world has come a long way in the last few decades in terms of accessibility, individuals with disabilities still face monumental challenges. These physical, policy-related, communication-related, and social accessibility barriers lead to a lack of participation in everyday activities.
- Social Stigma: Stigma, prejudice, and discrimination are major hurdles for anyone living with an ambulatory disability. People experiencing these disabilities may feel excluded from social circles, looked down upon, or viewed as “broken” and generally unwell.
How a Service Dog Offers Improved Quality of Life
Service dogs may not be right for everyone, but in many cases, they can change lives for the better. The benefits from owning a service dog were made clear in a study conducted by the Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine and published in Disability and Rehabilitation in 2019. It measured improvements in overall psychosocial wellness by comparing a group of individuals who had been assigned service dogs with a second group who were added to a waiting list.
While the study did not show a clear statistical association between service dog ownership and improvements in specific psychosocial factors, it did show that the people who had service dogs had markedly better overall psychosocial health and improved quality of life. They were healthier emotionally and socially, and they performed better at either work or school, depending on their ages.
Overcoming Psychological Challenges
Service dogs can help their recipients combat many psychological challenges such as depression, anxiety, stress, and anger by promoting a greater sense of independence among their recipients. For some recipients, service dogs provide a newfound sense of purpose and drive the desire for self-improvement. Instead of grieving their loss of independence, service dogs can help their recipients realize that they are capable of more than they think.
Service dogs bring non-judgmental companionship into their recipients’ lives, which is often one of the major catalysts to the psychological improvements. They offer a calming presence while bringing individuals much-needed routine and responsibility.
Reducing Social Hurdles
Individuals living with ambulatory disabilities may experience limitations at home, school, work, and other places due to their inability to function in the same ways as their peers. The benefits of service dogs can extend into these individuals’ social lives by giving them freedom and autonomy. As a result, people living with disabilities feel more independent and less burdensome.
Service dogs offer companionship, which can drive individuals’ desire for social interaction. Service dog ownership even serves as a conversation starter by giving the recipient common ground with their peers. Because service dogs require care, such as feeding and grooming, they can help people with disabilities rediscover their capabilities and grow more confident.
How You Can Help Provide the Benefits from Owning a Service Dog to People with Ambulatory Disabilities
Service dog ownership is not right for everyone, but for many people living with ambulatory disabilities, it can lead to markedly improved quality of life. A pilot study published in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes in 2017 found that service dog ownership led to numerous benefits – both general and specific – among individuals with disabilities.
Putnam Service Dogs helps individuals living with ambulatory disabilities regain their confidence, independence, and quality of life by providing free service dogs to people who have physical disabilities other than blindness. We pursue excellence and compassion in everything we do.
With your support, we can continue to share the benefits of service dogs with people experiencing psychosocial challenges due to their ambulatory disabilities. To learn more about our mission, or to find out how you can get involved, visit our website today.
- American Psychiatric Association, Service Dogs Can Be Invaluable in Helping People with PTSD
- British Red Cross, Action on Loneliness
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Disability Barriers to Inclusion
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Disability Impacts All of Us
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mental Health for All
- Disability and Rehabilitation, The Effects of Service Dogs on Psychosocial Health and Wellbeing for Individuals with Physical Disabilities or Chronic Conditions
- DisablityCompendium.org, Annual Report on People with Disabilities in America: 2023
- Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, A Survey of the Impact of Owning a Service Dog on Quality of Life for Individuals with Physical and Hearing Disability: A Pilot Study
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Psychological Quality of Life in People with Physical Disability: The Effect of Internalized Stigma, Collective Action, and Resilience
- PLOS One, The Effects of Assistance Dogs on Psychosocial Health and Wellbeing: A Systematic Literature Review
- Psychology Today, Service Dogs May Improve Your Mental Health