Pilot Study of the Effects of Service Dogs on Mental Health and Wellness in War Veterans with PTSD and/or TBI
Marguerite E. O'Haire, PhD
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a prevalent and debilitating disorder that affects up to 31% of military veterans. It drastically impairs mental health and wellness. Veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) often experience PTSD and the optimal means of managing TBI is to treat stress symptoms. However, existing PTSD treatments have limited effectiveness and high drop-out rates. One promising treatment alternative is a service dog. Yet despite their positive reputation in the popular press and anecdotal accounts of their efficacy, there are no published, peer-reviewed, empirical studies on their effectiveness for this population.
To assess this hypothesis, we will evaluate three indicators of mental health and wellness across groups, including: Objective 1: Medical indicators (medication use and number of doctor visits), Objective 2: Physiological indicator (salivary cortisol awakening response), and Objective 3: Self-perception (standardized self-report instruments from other PTSD treatment research to assess quality of life, including anxiety, self-efficacy, suicidal thinking, and family reintegration).
Veterans with PTSD and/or TBI who have service dogs will show better mental health and wellness, compared to those receiving other treatment services, while on the waitlist for a service dog.