"The positive difference Sparky has made to my life is almost immeasurable."

Posted by Matt Sadler

Seven years ago, Meg’s life changed forever when she was partnered with her beloved hearing dog Sparky. He has alerted her to important sounds in her daily life, and provided much-needed love and companionship.

Meg and hearing dog Sparky

However, this year Meg needed extra support that Sparky couldn’t provide and she looked to our Hearing Link Services for a helping hand.

This is Meg’s story:

I first noticed a deterioration in my hearing around 30 years ago. Eventually, I was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss and prescribed my first hearing aids.

Work-wise, I coped fairly well for the next 15 years or so, but by 2005 my residual hearing had dropped to a level where I was beginning to struggle in many situations. I could no longer follow or join in with colleagues during office conversations.

I remember feeling terribly distressed and embarrassed when, as appointed minute taker at our weekly team meeting, I had to hold up my hands and admit that I just couldn’t understand what was being said.

My employers did everything they could to help me continue in my job. I was allocated a quiet corner in an open plan office and provided with various pieces of equipment to help me hear more clearly.

However, the crunch came in 2007 when I realised that, increasingly, I was struggling to hear vital information and my employer was advised that I should retire.

Although a relief in some ways, the loss of my job came as a huge blow to my sense of self-worth.

Two years after my retirement in 2008, my husband passed away and I found myself living alone for the first time in my life.

At night I often worried about what might happen in the event of a house fire. I couldn’t hear smoke alarms even when I was wearing my hearing aids.

Despite a group of lovely, supportive friends, I also found I was gradually withdrawing from social situations, frustrated because I couldn’t join in with conversations and often felt like an outsider. 

When I did attempt to join in, I often got things completely wrong and ended up feeling pretty foolish.

Fortunately I was usually able to laugh at myself, but the underlying anxiety about getting things wrong was (and still is) always present,  especially when having to deal with important topics.  

My daughter, who lived quite a long distance from me, began to worry as I was apparently missing phone calls and visitors at the door. She suggested I might benefit from the help and companionship of a hearing dog.

On 28 November 2014, after five days’ residential training in Buckinghamshire, Sparky a very handsome golden Labrador came home with me for the first time.

Meg and hearing dog Sparky

The positive difference my boy has made to my life is almost immeasurable.

He helps me in many practical ways, alerting me to the doorbell, alarm clock, telephone, cooker timer and smoke alarms, but equally important for me is the companionship and sense of security he gives me.

When we are out and about his uniform lets other people know I’m deaf. This certainly makes my life easier when we go shopping, to the bank, or into cafés.

Sparky is a very friendly dog and I find wherever we go, people are often keen to learn about what he does for me. In doing so they tend to take time to speak to me more slowly and clearly, so it’s a win-win situation.

Of course there are some things Sparky can’t help me with, which is what led me to contact Hearing Link earlier this year. I was aware that the Hearing Dogs and Hearing Link charities had merged, but I hadn’t had any direct contact with the Hearing Link side.

I didn’t appreciate how much additional help and support is made available by the Charity to people who are struggling with their hearing.

I first contacted Hearing Link Services because I was dismayed to learn that a speech-to-text app for my iPhone would cost me £10 per week.

On emailing their Helpdesk I received an automated reply that my enquiry was in hand. I found out later that enquiries are triaged by a member of staff and forwarded anonymously to the volunteer with the most appropriate skillset or experience.

My enquiry went to James, one of the excellent team of Hearing Link Services volunteer responders, who replied very quickly with a free alternative to download. I followed the instructions, and the problem was resolved!

Then, following on from our initial contact, a community services manager from Hearing Link Services offered me a one-to-one session on Microsoft Teams to talk through how I was managing my hearing, and other services that may help.

As a self-confessed technophobe, and having experienced several very disappointing attempts at video calls, I was quite anxious. I needn’t have worried because I was supported every step of the way.

It was a really helpful session and we covered so much more ground than by email. I was invited to joining the next LinkUp Online group which runs over two consecutive days each month.  

This was a real turning point. Many who are severely hearing impaired can feel very left out and isolated, both in social situations, and in day-to-day interactions with those who may take their own ability to hear for granted.

It was really good to have the opportunity to share these feelings with others who understand only too well what it’s like. It was also enlightening to hear their stories and to share ideas. A LinkUp Online is structured, but with a welcoming and informal feel.

The atmosphere was very relaxed and there was plenty of laughter.  The volunteers all have hearing loss themselves and really understand what it’s like.

The support was great; I found the speech-to-text facility very efficient for following every word. 

The concentration required to keep up with everything is of course tiring, particularly to begin with. But the facilitators really get this and the frequent breaks are very welcome.

I’ll definitely take the opportunity to email the Helpdesk, book a one-to-one session or join a LinkUp Online again.

I would urge anyone with hearing loss, who hasn’t already done so, to contact Hearing Link Services.

You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Hearing Information Days

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, incorporating Hearing Link Services, is hosting two special events in July as part of the Charity’s 40th anniversary celebrations.

Our free Hearing Information Days will take place:

  • At The Beatrice Wright Centre in Bielby (near York) on Friday 1 July (11am-4pm)
  • At The Grange in Saunderton, near Princes Risborough, Bucks, on Tuesday 12 July (11am-4pm)

    The events are an opportunity for anyone with hearing loss, their families, and friends to meet people who have benefitted from our services, and some of the many volunteers who are a key part of our operations. Visitors can also learn more about how we train hearing dogs and our wide range of personalised services including a Helpdesk, support groups and products to support hearing.

 

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About the author

blog hearing dogs

Hi everyone, I'm Matt and I look after the Charity's social media, blog and e-newsletter.

I spend a lot of my day talking about our hearing dog superstars - it's a hard life!

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