3 Ways Helper Monkeys Are Helping Spinal Cord Injury Patients

Service animals have been gaining in popularity and making headlines in recent years. In the world of spinal cord injuries, service animals provide invaluable support to spinal cord injury patients and survivors concerning the handling of important tasks and alerting the wheelchair user of potential dangers. They also help paraplegics and quadriplegics gain greater independence than living alone or depending on an caretaker 24/7.

However, there is one type of service animal that most people in the spinal cord injury (SCI) community may not realize can be of help for everyday tasks: monkeys. Although they are not considered formal “service animals” by Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, which considers a dog alone as a service animal, these primates provide incredible support and assistance to spinal cord injury patients and other individuals with mobility-limiting disabilities such as:

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS),
  • Muscular dystrophy (MD), and
  • Extremity amputations.

There is one group, Helping Hands: Monkey Keepers, that does whatever it can to help connect helper monkeys (monkey helpers, as they are called at Helping Hands) with spinal cord injury patients who need them. And, here are three of the ways that monkeys can help SCI survivors with their spinal cord injury recovery.

How Monkeys Became Spinal Cord Injury Patient Helpers

Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers is a non-profit group that trains and places capuchin monkeys with people who have limited to no hand function. Since 1979, the organization has been placing these primates with spinal cord injury patients and others with certain disabilities across the U.S. Although training one of the organization’s service monkeys costs $40,000, the monkeys are provided at no cost to recipients, who are carefully matched to their monkeys to ensure a strong and effective partnership.

According to the organization’s website, the group was founded in Boston and placed its first helper monkey, Hellion, with a man living with paralysis. It became a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 1982 and has provided SCI support to people around the U.S. ever since. Upward of 12 monkeys are placed with recipients each year.

What Helper Monkeys Do to Help Spinal Cord Injury Patients

Helper monkeys are trained in a wide variety of general everyday tasks — everything from retrieving objects to turning technology on and off. Whenever a monkey has been matched with a recipient, the organization’s Placement Team spends upwards of eight days at the recipient’s home to conduct on-site training with the monkey. The helper monkey’s training is then customized with skills that will help it meet the specific needs and environment of the spinal cord injury patient recipient.

1. They Help Spinal Cord Injury Patients Regain Independence

Helper monkeys help spinal cord injury patients and other individuals with mobility impairments live their lives with a higher level of independence. While some tasks will still need to be handled by a caretaker or a personal care assistant (PCA) — personal care, feeding, and retrieving medications — other responsibilities can be handled by the monkeys.

2. Helper Monkeys Are Taught to Handle a Wide Array of Tasks

There are several reasons why having a helper monkey is beneficial to spinal cord injury patients. Unlike dog service animals, capuchin monkeys have manual dexterity and fine motor skills that enable them to perform a variety of skilled tasks as part of their spinal cord injury support. Furthermore, a couple of service monkey facts are that they have longer lifespans (30-40 years) and are a smaller size, which allows them to cuddle their human partners.

As technology has changed over the past several decades, so have the training protocols for the monkeys. Nowadays, the helper monkeys are taught how to turn on technology such as computers and to load DVD and Blu-ray players.

According to the website, helper monkeys can help with personal tasks such as:

  • Turning handles and opening doors;
  • Pressing buttons or turning on switches for various forms of technology (such as light switches, remote controls, computers, and phones);
  • Retrieving fallen or dropped objects;
  • Turning book pages;
  • Scratching itches; and
  • Placing or moving limbs on a wheelchair.

3. Monkeys Provide Companionship, Affection, Comfort & Empowerment

The last point we’ll mention is that these monkeys, partly because of their lifespan and their level of intelligence, help recipients gain a sense of empowerment, affection, and love from their helper monkeys.

To learn more about how you or your loved one can cope with a spinal cord injury, download our complimentary resource by clicking on the image below. Or, if you have questions about receiving compensation for your spinal cord injury, be sure to get in contact with our team of SCI legal experts.  

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