More Than Pets: The Important Roles of Service and Support Animals

April 28, 2022

Surely, you’ve noticed the change in mood that comes from petting your beloved dog or cat. Interacting with animals has been shown to increase a person’s oxytocin levels which can lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and decrease depression.

The bonding that can happen between humans and animals is akin to love. We empower them to help us heal emotionally and physically.

The dogs’ ability to be trained and accept commands has made them vital assistants for millennia for people with limited vision. Carvings and scrolls depicting guide dogs assisting the blind go back as far as A.D. 1. Their use increased around World War I as soldiers were blinded by mustard gas.

The evolution of animals as emotional support companions did not evolve until the late 1980s. They are most often dogs and cats, but recent stories of emotional support pigs, peacocks, primates, penguins, and aardvarks have prompted businesses — particularly airlines and rail companies — to limit what qualifies.

Service versus emotional support

Dogs and miniature horses are the only federally recognized service animals according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. They must be allowed to accompany their humans wherever the public has a right to go.

To be a service animal, the dog or miniature horse must be trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples include:

  • Guiding the blind,
  • Alerting the deaf,
  • Pulling wheelchairs,
  • Protecting people who have seizures,
  • Reminding people with mental health issues to take their medicine, or
  • Calming people with post-traumatic stress disorder

Some service dogs have been trained to help people with diabetes monitor their blood-sugar levels.

Emotional support animals don’t perform specific tasks. They are prescribed by mental health professionals to patients diagnosed with emotional or psychological disorders, like depression, bipolar disorder, or panic attacks.

Emotional support animals only have to “be there” for their humans. Sometimes they work in hospitals or schools and not just with one person. They are not protected by the ADA and are not a subcategory of service animals.

Service Dog Walking Next to a Wheel Chair Patient

Physical Support

Service dogs perform multiple tasks for people who have physical disabilities. The tasks often depend on the type of disability and the needs of the person.

  • For people in wheelchairs — Dogs can be trained to open doors, pick up objects, retrieve items or turn lights on and off. They may load or unload laundry, press buttons on elevators, or on wheelchair-access doors. They can stabilize someone getting into bed or going to the bathroom.
  • For people with epilepsy — They can warn someone of a coming seizure, lie with the person having the seizure, then get help depending on the situation.
  • For people with fatigue issues — Dogs can help people retain their balance, brace someone to prevent a fall, or carry items that might fatigue the person.

Emotional Support

Emotional support animals are not service animals, but service animals can be emotional support animals. People who rely on service dogs need help with physical tasks. But service dogs also provide several emotional benefits for their people.

  • Companionship — Their presence can help ease feelings of loneliness. They also help to bear the burden of the illness or disability.
  • Independence — Service dogs can do things that would normally require another person. Sharing those tasks with a dog helps build that sense of independence.
  • Confidence — The service dog becomes a companion that helps their people in a variety of social situations and helps counter the tendence to become isolated.
  • Motivation — Instead of becoming tired or discouraged by daily tasks, the service dog’s assistance helps to motivate the person to get on with daily activities.
  • Self-improvement — Helping people do things that might not have been possible before, can lead a person to reach for new goals.

Elder Man Holding A Dog

Bring Your Service Animal

AltaMed understands the important role service dogs play in people’s lives. Service dogs are welcome to attend appointments and visit facilities with the people they serve. Our physicians may be able to help with disability-related support animal services. Contact AltaMed at (888) 499-9303 for more information.

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Managing Stress Before It Becomes Anxiety

March 21, 2022

It feels like stress has been a frequent companion for the last two years. The pandemic has forced many of us to feel lonely and isolated. We may have lost loved ones or seen friends and relatives spend time in the hospital. Jobs have been lost and financial worries seem constant.

It’s normal, however. Stress is the body’s response to the unknown. Learning how to handle that stress can make you resilient. 

Stressed Woman

The Body and Stress

Your body releases hormones whenever you’re stressed. It is part of the fight-or-flight response that has developed over millions of years. You become more alert, your muscles get tense, and your pulse increases. The stress is meant to help you handle that situation.

Staying stressed, even after that stressful situation has passed, can lead to chronic stress which can lead to health problems like:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Menstrual problems
  • Anxiety

Anxiety happens when the stress takes over. You are in a constant state of worry. Symptoms include:

  • Changes in appetite, energy, and motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling angry, frustrated, sad, scared, or worried
  • Headaches, body aches, stomach problems, or rashes
  • Nightmares
  • Use of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco
  • Worsening physical or mental health

Family Stress

4 A’s of Stress Management

It’s important to learn productive ways to deal with stress because we deal with it nearly every day. Sometimes it’s good, like a wedding, birthday, or a new job. Sometimes it’s difficult, like a flat tire, an illness, or a pandemic. There are ways to get your body back into balance, so you’re not overwhelmed by stress.

The Mayo Clinic recommends four A’s to cope with stress: avoid, alter, accept, and adapt

  • Avoid — The news can be incredibly stressful so, avoid it. Being informed is important, but not at the expense of your health. Don’t engage with people who bother you. Learn to say “no.” If you have a “to-do” list, prioritize items on that list and forget the ones you can’t get to that day.
  • Alter — It may be worth having a talk with that bothersome person if they can’t be avoided. Communicate your feelings with “I” statements about how you feel. Tell people there are limits to your time and stick to those. Use your time more efficiently.
  • Accept — It can help to talk with a sympathetic friend. It might be time to forgive someone, which can be hard. Practice positivity. Don’t get down on yourself for mistakes. Remind yourself that mistakes happen to everyone. Learn and move on.
  • Adapt — Shift your thinking. You may want things to be “perfect.” That’s not necessary. Learn to stop gloomy thoughts. Look at situations from a different viewpoint. Find the positivity in each situation. Try to come up with at least three good things that happened each day. This will lead you to start looking for the good in your life as you look for different things to be thankful for.

Regular exercise, having a hobby, staying connected with friends, eating a healthy diet, and meditating are all ways that can help you keep the stress in check.

Get Help When You Need It

If stress is keeping you from enjoying life, it might be time to seek professional assistance. Start by talking with your primary care doctor. They may have some tips or advice for you, and they can also refer you to AltaMed Behavioral Health Services.

If you’re not sure if stress is your problem or if you should see a doctor, you can call AltaMed Behavioral Health Services directly at 855- 425-1777. We can help you find answers so you can get the care that’s right for you. Take a deep breath…together, we’ve got this.

Moving from Awareness to Acceptance of People with Autism

March 21, 2022

We have all heard the term “autistic” or the phrase, “on the spectrum.” But what do those phrases mean? What IS the spectrum?

The “spectrum” is the wide range of symptoms related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism for short. It is a condition related to brain development that affects the way someone perceives and engages with others. It can cause challanges with communication and social interaction.

April is World Autism Month. Organizations supporting families coping with autism are working to move beyond awareness to acceptance, because ASD doesn’t affect everyone the same way. 

Family Autism

Whom It Affects

One in 44 children under the age of 8 were identified with ASD according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. It affects all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. It is, however, four times more common in boys than in girls.

The causes are unclear; however researchers have ruled out any link between childhood vaccines and the disorder. It is believed there are a combination of biological, environmental, and genetic factors. According to the CDC:

  • Most scientists agree genes are one of the risk factors that make the development of ASD more likely.
  • Children with a sibling with ASD are at higher risk of having ASD.
  • People with certain chromosomal conditions like fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis have a greater chance of having ASD.
  • Evidence suggests the critical period for developing ASD occurs before, during, and immediately after birth.
  • Children born to older parents are at a greater risk for having ASD.

What to Look For

Between 80% and 90% of parents of children with autism saw signs of ASD in their children by the time they turned two years old according to the National Autism Association. Intervening early can have a positive impact on the child’s long-term success.

The NAA recommends using the acronym SPOT to look for early signs of autism.

  • S. Social Differences — avoiding eye contact, disinterest in other children, strange play patterns
  • P. Persistent Sensory Differences — gets upset over normal daily sounds; overreacts or underreacts to lights, smells, tastes, or textures
  • O. Obsessive Behaviors — flapping hands, rocking back and forth, focused on one object or activity
  • T. Talking Delayed — little or no babbling by one year; no words by 16 months; seems deaf; loses previous verbal skills or language

Classroom Autism Awareness

Treatment Options

Treatment for ASD is centered on reducing the effect symptoms have on daily life. The range of strengths and challenges for people with autism varies dramatically since ASD affects people differently.

Treatment typically involves several professionals and are created for the individual. They are administered in community, education, health, or home settings, or a combination of some or all of those.

Communication is important so providers are all working toward similar goals and supporting the stated progress and expectations.

Treatments typically fall into the following categories:

  • Behavioral — Applied Behavior Analysis is a behavioral treatment encouraging desired behaviors and discouraging undesired behaviors to improve skills.
  • Developmental — These focus on speech, language, physical, and other connected skills.
  • Educational — Given in a classroom setting, this treatment category arms teachers with ways to adjust classroom structure to improve outcomes.
  • Social-relational — These treatments help build emotional bonds and often involve parents or peer mentors.
  • Pharmacological — There is no medication for ASD, but some medications are used for co-occurring symptoms like hyperactivity, anxiety, or depression.
  • Psychological — Cognitive-Behavior Therapy is an example of an approach, focusing on the connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Complementary and Alternative — These augment traditional approaches and could include special diets, animal therapy, mindfulness, art therapy, or chiropractic care.

We Can Answer Your Questions

AltaMed is available to provide specialized care to newborns, giving them the best start at life. That includes age-appropriate immunizations and screenings. Our pediatricians also have information on early childhood development milestones and can talk to you about any concerns you may have during your child’s first few years of life. They can also help you find specialists in areas like child neurology and pediatric developmental behavior. 

Get started by contacting us today at (877) 462-2582.