The Allen County Public Library has many books about health and disease on its shelves. Since November is National Diabetes Month, I am going to focus on diabetes. Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes and an additional 79 million have prediabetes and are at risk of developing the disease. There are many other diseases and diagnoses that people come to the library to research. Diabetes is just the example. If you have questions about researching any health topics, please contact Ask a Librarian.
Service dogs have been in use for many years as guide dogs to the blind and as military and police animals to sniff-out drugs and explosives, but formal training for guide dogs did not begin until 1975. Other types of service animal training for individuals has developed since that time. In 2011 the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) defined it as: “Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. … The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability.”
Service dogs are used to alert someone with diabetes when they are having changes in blood glucose (bg) — usually before even a continuous glucose monitor picks up the changes. We’re pretty sure they can smell changes in blood glucose, but scientists have not been able to prove that. They are trained to scent both low and high bg using dental cotton that the person with diabetes has filled with saliva during episodes of low and high bg. DADs wear a harness when they are working, like many other service dogs. They will use whatever signal they are taught to use to alert their person (a paw on the knee or a nose in the hand) and not stop alerting until they see that the person is responding. If their persons do not respond, the dogs tend to look for someone else (usually a family member) to notify. They will go so far as to roll a person out of bed if he or she is not responding. DADs save lives. I won’t be getting a dog until next December, but I am getting very excited about the idea. This will give me some freedom from worry. My family will be relieved, too. I have had several incidences at night where my insulin pump failed, usually because of problems with the tubing. A dog would have alerted me much sooner that I had a problem and I would not have had blood glucose readings higher than my meter could read. That’s a pretty scary experience.
Going too low can be just as scary and dangerous. Children in particular have blood glucose readings that swing dramatically from one extreme to another. People who have had diabetes for a long time also have problems with control and complications. A DAD will alert any time you are going low or high, and if both the individual with diabetes and the dog are properly trained, it can help prevent accidents such as those due to driving with high or low blood glucose.
DADs are companions as well as lifesavers. They make it more possible for people with diabetes to live alone and for students to go to college without their parents constantly worrying about their well being. Parents are still going to worry, but a DAD will take some of the edge off the worry.
I hope these four posts have taught you a little about diabetes. They should also have shown you some of the many ways you can find information at the library. We have books, journal articles, government websites, videos, computers, and more. If you are having trouble finding what you need, a reference librarian will be happy to help you get reliable information. Please remember that researchers for any disease need funds, so if you have a cause that you feel strongly about, please consider donating to the cause of your choice.