Friedreich's ataxia (FA) is a rare inherited condition that causes progressive damage to the nervous system. As a result, FA patients have an increasing disability, including loss of mobility and coordination and life-threatening heart problems. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Friedreich's ataxia, and most people with symptoms will eventually require a wheelchair or walker.


What Is Friedreich's Ataxia?

Friedreich's ataxia is caused by a mutation in a gene labeled FXN, carrying the genetic code for a protein called frataxin. Mutations in this gene cause an enzyme related to iron metabolism — frataxin — not to work correctly. As a result, nerve cell degeneration is accelerated, and nerves can die off completely. 


Nerve cell degeneration can lead to problems with balance and coordination and multiple other issues. Friedreich’s ataxia usually starts between ages 5 and 30, with muscle weakness that worsens over time until walking becomes difficult by age 40 or 50.


Ataxia symptoms vary by person and type of ataxia. The rate of progression also varies. A person’s symptoms may gradually worsen over decades — or quickly, over a few months. Common symptoms of FA include:

  • Lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Trouble eating and swallowing
  • Deterioration of fine motor skills
  • Difficulty walking
  • Gait abnormalities
  • Eye movement abnormalities
  • Tremors
  • Heart problems


Benefits of a Service Dog for Friedreich's Ataxia

A Service Dog provides multiple benefits to people with FA. They are a tremendous help with tasks and also offer significant emotional support. 


Daily living becomes much easier with a Service Dog, making a person with FA less dependent on others. For example, a Service Dog can:


  • Assist With Household Tasks 

Service Dogs can learn to turn the lights off and on, retrieve medication, open and close doors, take items out of a front loader washer and dryer, and more. Having the assistance of a Service Dog to take care of these types of tasks can help lighten the daily load for those with mobility or motor issues.


  • Retrieve Items 

One symptom of FA is a lack of hand coordination. A Service Dog can assist a person by fetching and carrying certain items on command.


  • Push Buttons

Service Dogs can be trained to push elevator buttons and disability push pads to open doors. 


  • Assist With Walking 

People with FA frequently have balance and coordination problems, which can result in falls. A Service Dog can be trained to simulate a cane or crutch, providing balance and support to help prevent falls. If a person does fall, a Service Dog is able to assist them in standing up as well. 


  • Provide Wheelchair Assistance

Service Dogs can help people in wheelchairs navigate up and down ramps. A Service Dog can also be trained to help a person get into and out of their wheelchair.


 In addition to the practical help Service Dogs can provide, they can help with mental health conditions, like depression, which the effects of FA can cause. Like other disabilities, FA can be isolating. However, life with a Service Dog can often prompt conversations with people, which can help open the lines of communication and make a person feel less isolated and lonely.


A Service Dog helps people with Friedreich's ataxia live with increased mobility, independence, and self-confidence.


Service Dog Training


Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD) breed Service Dogs and begin their training when they’re puppies. By the time they’re nine months, the puppies know several commands. They then undergo extensive training for 9 to 18 months before being matched with someone. 

Once a potential match has been identified, each person's final training is individualized. When a client arrives for team training, the dog has had up to 1,500 hours of training and socialization.


Help Us Improve the Lives of People With FA (and Other Disabilities)


A Service Dog can offer independence and a fulfilling life to people with FA. Having a Service Dog provides companionship and offers a better quality of life. If you or a loved one has FA, contact Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities to learn more or apply for a Service Dog.


Everyone can take part in helping people with disabilities with Service Dogs. Please support us with a donation, bequest, or planned giving, contribute to our wish list, or create a fundraiser. Your support can change someone’s life.