Does Using a Service Dog Help Ambulation in MS Individuals with Gait Dysfunction?

Thursday, May 29, 2014
Trinity Exhibit Hall
Cecilie Fjeldstad, PhD , MS Center of Excellence, OMRF, Oklahoma City, OK
Gabriel Pardo, MD , MS Center of Excellence, OMRF, Oklahoma City, OK

Background: Walking impairment, postural balance and inactivity is a primary concern for individuals with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). In recent years, service animals have become more recognized as productive aids to individuals with various kinds of disabilities.  Timed 25-foot walk (T25W) has been used as an outcome for medical intervention in gait dysfunction in MS.  

Objectives: To determine if walking speed in MS individuals with ambulatory dysfunction, but without requiring a walking aid, improves with the use of a certified service dog as assistance.  

Methods: Study cohort included 36 individuals diagnosed with MS and identified as having a gait abnormality secondary to MS, but that were able to walk without using any assistive device. Mean age was 52.7±1.5 years old and mean duration of MS was 14.0±1.4 years.  93% of the cohort had relapsing remitting type of MS, 77% were on disease modifying therapies and 82% were females. They were asked to perform two T25W sets, each including an unassisted walk and one with a service dog.  The order was reversed for the second set, which was performed after a 15 minute rest period.  A paired sample t-test was done to examine the difference of walking with a service dog versus walking without. 

Results: There was a significant difference in the T25W for individuals that walked with the aid of a service dog compared to individuals walking on their own (P<0.05, p = 0.014).

Conclusions: There was an improvement in walking speed when individuals walked with the aid of a service dog compared to ambulating on their own. This study is the first to our knowledge to use a service animal as a way to improve ambulatory dysfunction in MS. These results should encourage additional research in the use of service animals for this and other outcomes of quality of life.