Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Centers for Disease Control Seeks Funding for PTSD/Service Dog Study

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is seeking approval from the Office of Management and Budget to fund “a laboratory-based work-simulation study” that will “investigate the influence of the presence of and interactions with a dog on the reactivity and performance of veterans with and without PTSD to work-related and startle stressors.”  The study will be conducted at a research facility of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Morgantown, West Virginia.  The CDC’s announcement that it is seeking funding for the study was posted in the Federal Register on September 9 (79 Fed. Reg. 53430). 

The proposed study is described as follows:

“The role of dogs in potentially moderating the effects of the stressors will be investigated with either the absence or presence of a dog in some conditions and a dog that is either familiar or unfamiliar to the veteran in other conditions. The general working hypothesis is that the presence of, and/or interaction with, a familiar dog reduces stress and enhances work performance for both veterans with and without PTSD, with a greater benefit to veterans with PTSD.”

The  CDC announcement mentions therapy dogs, which perhaps means that when a dog unfamiliar to the veteran is used during some of the trial circumstances, therapy dogs will be used.  The kinds of symptoms that dogs may be useful in alleviating are listed as “diminished interest or participation in significant activities, feelings of detachment or estrangement from others, difficulty falling or staying asleep, hyper vigilance, exaggerated startle response, difficulty with concentration or attention, and a restricted range of affect.”

The CDC expects to recruit U.S. veterans for the study, including veterans with service dogs, by getting help from various veterans’ organizations.  About 400 persons in veterans’ agencies will receive emails concerning the research study, with follow-up phone calls.  Veterans will have to complete some questionnaires that will be posted on the internet, and those selected from this stage will go through several days of assessment sessions at the NIOSH Morgantown facility. Screening forms will include:
From the initial pool, 64 veterans will be enrolled in the laboratory portion of the study, including at least 16 veterans who own service dogs.  On entering the study, veterans with service dogs will complete the following materials: 
  • Big Five Inventory (BFI) 
  • Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (CBARQ)
  • Pet Attachment and Life Impact Scale (PALS) 
  •  Dog Personality Scale (DPQ)   
  •  Social Style-Self and Social Style-Service Dog questionnaires
There will be no cost to participants other than giving their time. 

The CDC is probably hoping to find evidence that service dogs are helpful to veterans, but acknowledges that no particular outcome is certain:

“A review of mostly anecdotal evidence suggests that animal-assisted interventions may have general therapeutic benefits for individuals with PTSD. Although a few reports tout the benefits of human-animal companionship, no studies have focused specifically on investigating the elements of human-animal interactions that might be therapeutic for individuals with PTSD or other stress-related disorders. Furthermore, there is scant evidence supporting the notion that service dogs or therapy dogs may directly improve functioning and, thereby, ease an individual’s reintegration into society and employment.”

While most studies on the benefits of therapy dogs are rather anecdotal, research in the area is becoming more rigorous, as noted here in a recent blog

Anyone, including members of the general public, can obtain more information on the project by calling (404) 639-7570.  Comments can be sent to Leroy A. Richardson, 1600 Clifton Road, MS-D74, Atlanta, GA 30333.  An email can be sent to omb@cdc.gov.  Mr. Richardson is a Chief in the CDC’s Information Collection Review Office in Atlanta.  Written documents should be received within 60 days of the Federal Register announcement, i.e., by November 8. 

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