Sunday, 27 April 2014

Hearing Dogs Spring Open Day

Hearing Dogs for Deaf People had their Spring open day yesterday and I thought I'd wander along to see, in person, some of what they do. I had heard about the open day a month or so ago from the News page on their website and, despite all my research and viewing of videos on t'web, I thought it would be useful to see in person some of the work that they, and the puppies, socialisers and Hearing Dogs do.
Bruce, the Hearing Dogs Mascot

It's a decent drive from where I live to get to Princes Risborough in deepest Buckinghamshire nestling in the Chiltern Hills. Luckily I enjoy driving and I know the area really well from when I used to live in the Rickmansworth area some years ago which made the journey much easier and something of a nostalgia trip as well. The area, if you haven't been before, is part of the gorgeous Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a phrase that came to mind while I was driving through was that it's the Southern Lake District but without the lakes!

Anyway, the weather was being characteristically April-like in that it was changeable with the odd light shower here and there on the trip down but with some glorious sunny intervals as well. As time went on things became more and more promising and what started out as a dull morning turned into something much more resembling a Spring day.

When I arrived, just after Midday, I was really pleased to see how full the car parks were and that many others had decided to come along as well. I took a moment to view the surroundings and the centre is in a lovely valley floor location with nary a house, building or even a phone mast in sight!

I was also very pleased to see that Pet Dogs were welcome. Why I was (mildly) suprised by this I have no idea, I suppose it's because Dogs are usually not welcome in most places. Nevertheless, there were lots of Dogs in attendance, many of whom were either Hearing Dogs or Hearing Dog puppies with their burgundy coats or burgundy leash tags.

One of the Socialisation Demo Puppies
After a brief wander around I went to one of the large (shed?) buildings where the live demonstrations were taking place. Every half-hour there was a Puppy Socialising demo where we saw the puppies go through their paces with some obedience demonstrations such as sit, stay, recall and walking to heel. The puppies were fabulous and seemed to enjoy it immensely although sometimes the crowds and surroundings did prove to be a slight distraction at some points. After the puppy demonstration we were then treated to a Soundwork Demonstration by the adult dogs. The soundwork demo included all the key ingredients that go into making a Hearing Dog such an effective partner. 

You can see examples of Soundwork Demonstrations on the Hearing Dogs YouTube channel which can be found here.

After watching the demonstrations I had a wander around in more depth and looked at the Kennels and the Training Houses where the Dogs go through their soundwork training.

The Kennels, which are about to be updated, are spacious with plenty of space for each dog to sleep and play. There is a central area for staff to keep an eye out and a health care section at the end for minor treatment to be carried out. At the entrance there is a waist high shower tray and shower where the Dogs are washed (and groomed?) after the traditional roll in the mud and jump in the river! I was impressed by the kennels and I have taken a couple of ideas away with me to carry out at home if/when the need arises.

The Training Houses (there were at least two and maybe three of these) are fully furnished 'houses' with a Hallway, Lounge, Kitchen/Diner, stairs and probably bedroom where the dogs undergo their Soundwork training. The walls downstairs are festooned with photos of Dogs that have previously been trained and placed with recipients which is a lovely touch.

I left after a few hours and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Dogs (trained and untrained) in action and thoroughly recommend visiting the next open day when it comes along. To further boost the day the weather stayed sunny and warm until a few minutes after I left whereupon a typical April shower decided to do its worst.

I took some video of my day out which you can see here. (Note that the video does not contain sound so do not panic if you can't hear anything... there's nothing to hear!)

Thursday, 24 April 2014

You're Deaf enough, well done! Eh? What?

I had a rather novel experience a short while ago, maybe even a life first....! 

I don't think I've ever been congratulated ('Well done' is what was actually said) for being deaf enough....! The reason? The following email landed in my inbox a short while ago... Edging closer 
'Thank you very much for sending a copy of your audio report. I have checked this with my line manager this morning and your report confirms you do meet the criteria for a hearing dog. This report is sufficient for us to proceed. 
I will send out the Doctor’s form and Responsibilities & Expectations form to you today, and I will send a further email with some more questions.'

I shall now be watching the letter box for the next few days as if it's my Birthday!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Audiograms? Hearing Tests? What's that all about?

As part of the application process for a Hearing Dog I had to send an up-to-date Audiogram to the Hearing Dogs person who is my Application Advisor, we'll stick with calling her Freda for the time being. 

This is a copy of my Audiogram from 3 years ago, my hearing hasn't changed a great deal over the years but I fully expect it to deteriorate at some point due to age related hearing loss (more on that another time). 

For those who have not had a hearing test the Audiogram is the results of the test, that the patient (in this case me) has undergone, in graph form.

The Hearing Test (we'll call it that for simplicity!) is undertaken in a soundproofed room free from outside noise. Often the rooms are windowless and the walls are lined with soundproofing materials in older rooms. More modern rooms are more conventionally decorated with wallpaper etc.but may be soundproofed underneath.

The room will either be in two parts with a soundproofed partition with a double/triple glazed window separating the audiologist and the patient or will be a single room in which both the patient and audiologist sit together.

The test is conducted without Hearing Aids and the patient wears a set of headphones connected to a console in front of the audiologist that is used to generate sounds at different frequencies (tones e.g. Bass through to Treble, and beyond, if you like) and volumes (dB or decibels in technical parlance).

The test is carried out annually for younger patients or patients who have recently been diagnosed as having a hearing loss. In my case I visited the Royal Throat Nose and Ear Hospital in London on an annual basis from the age of three (more about the time prior to this in a future post) until around the age of 20 (mostly in Spring) after which I went bi-annually and now less frequently.

In the old days (blimey, makes me sound old!) when the audiologist generated a sound via the console the patient (me) would be required to tap the edge of the desk/table with a drumstick (this I found very childish and slightly embarassing when I got old enough to feel above all that kind of thing)! When technology moved on a bit, or more likely it needed replacing and could be afforded, the drumstick was replaced with a hand-held button to press when you heard the noise generated.

The test goes on for what seems like an eternity, but is usually around half an hour I think. and for various reasons requires a considerable amount of concentration as will become apparent later. The Audiologist will play a series of tones (noise frequencies, Bass > Treble etc remember) that are randomly louder or quieter (it seems random to me but there is apparently a protocol or structure behind all this). Each time the patient hears a noise that is distinct they press the button. The problems for me arise at this point.

Since the brain is a smart thing, it gets easily bored. Due to this boredom it sometimes makes up noises of its own; this is what is called Tinnitus. Tinnitus isn't necessarily a 'ringing of the ears' as it's often described; the noises can take many forms and can happen at varying times. In my case, within the hearing test environment, I often get, what I think are, echoes of the sounds that are being made by the Audiologist which adds an extra level of complexity and doubt into the equation. This also means that I really have to concentrate, especially on the quieter sounds that I can detect to be sure that I am responding to a genuine sound rather than a self-generated sound (if that makes sense). There are further aspects to Tinnitus that affect me outside of the Hearing Test and I'll cover these another time.
Anyway, back to the test. Each set of tones is played out at varying volumes (db/Decibel levels) and the Audiologist notes the positive responses the patient makes before moving onto the next set of tones. Louder noises are easier to respond to and quieter noises require a lot more concentration and consideration. The best responses, i.e. the quietest sound the patient can hear (lowest number of Decibels for each tone range) are marked on the Audiogram with a blue X for the left ear and a Red O for the right ear.

The range these values fall into enable different levels of Hearing Loss to be categorised, from this we can see which broad category the patient falls into (I am on the boundary between two).

If you'd like some idea of what the sounds 'played' are like take a visit to this site and select the 1KHz sound (make sure your speakers aren't too loud and that you choose the 5 second file rather than the 30 second file otherwise you'll never forgive me!) which is the sound in the mid-point of the X-Axis on the Audiogram. Feel free to try the other sounds as well although, apart from the 250Hz sound, these do not appear on the graph.

I hope this helps give some understanding of what the hearing test is like and how the results are generated and interpreted.

(Below is an extract from the Action On Hearing Loss website explaining the different hearing loss levels)
There are four different levels of hearing loss, defined by the quietest sound that people are able to hear, measured in decibels (dB).
Mild hearing loss:
Quietest sound: 25 - 39 dB.
Can sometimes make following speech difficult, particularly in noisy situations.
Moderate hearing loss:
Quietest sound: 40 - 69 dB.
May have difficulty following speech without hearing aids.
Severe hearing loss:
Quietest sound: 70 - 94 dB.
Usually need to lipread or use sign language, even with hearing aids.
Profound deafness:
Quietest sound: 95 dB+
Usually need to lipread or use sign language

Friday, 4 April 2014

Still stunned...

Still can't quite believe I'm on the list and still enjoying reading all the good wishes from all my friends sent before and after the confirmation of acceptance.

I looked at my phone this afternoon and discovered that I'd redialled the application line 94 times! 

Wow, didn't realise it was that many!

Anyway, here's some of the good wishes I've had from my FaceBook friends since Tuesday (these plus 44 likes) that shows just how important Facebook is to me for keeping in touch and boosting my morale (I don't get out a huge amount for various reasons). Thank you all for your good wishes, it means a great deal!
Jacky : Great news
Kevin : Bad (well inconvenient) news and good news.
Jo : Absolute fab news news. Look forward to hearing about the journey for your new addition. X
Verity : Fantastic. Am very excited for you. X
Natasha : whoop whoop great news Mike xx
Terri : Hurrah!
Bridget : That is fantastic news! Here's to a long and happy partnership. Xxx
Carl : Fantastic news Mike :-):-)
Catherine : Terrific news - perseverance paid off x
Julie : Well Done!!! )
Claire : oh mike, i am absolutely chuffed for u... can i swear now ..... feckin fair play mike, great news .....
Dawn : Wow that's fantastic news!
Marissa : Marvellous - hope it all goes smoothly for you x
Catherine : What a stressful day, glad it became positive in the end and so well deserved. Think last time I saw you was when I was 14 same age my youngest are now! x
Stewart : Good news then.
Sarah : Brilliant news well done!!!!
Jenny : yay!!!
Tony : Good on you Mike.
Bev : Well done. So pleased for you
Angela : Excellent news. I'm so pleased for you. I'm now going to dance round the kitchen singing Happy x
Claire : Wonderful news! So pleased for you x
Raz : Congrats bud!
Charlotte : Great news! Congratulations! I'll look forward to seeing pictures. X
Justine : Wonderful news Mike! Lots of pictures please!
Kate : Awesome! BSL and Doggie!
Claire : Coolio x
Elise : Brilliant news! Told you prayer worked! Love Elise and Michael x

Introductions and next steps

Things are starting to move along. I received an email this afternoon from the person who will be my advisor during the process explaining what will happen next :
Dear Mike,
I am writing to introduce myself. My name is <Freda Bloggs> and I will be your advisor during your application process for a hearing dog.

I am very much looking forward to working with you through the application process, and will keep you updated throughout as your application moves forward.

I can correspond with you either by telephone, email or letter, so please advise me what your preferred communication method will be moving forward?

Please note that we do require an up to date audio report by 30th April 2014. This is so that we can confirm that your level of deafness fits within our criteria.

I will be posting out shortly a number of forms for you, these will include:
Consent forms x 2. These are for you to sign and send with correspondence I enclose to your Doctor and Audiologist. I will enclose clear instructions as to what you are to do with the forms.

Please do not wait for these details to arrive before contacting your Audiologist and obtaining an up to date report, as this will delay our receipt of it.

Also enclosed will be a Responsibilities and Expectations form for you to sign, and an application form for you to complete.

Please complete and return the forms to us as soon as possible.

In the meantime should you have any additional questions, please contact me.

With kind regards.
Needless to say I shall be rooting around for my Audiology report as soon as possible (well, give me some time to write down my thoughts first!)

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Pick yourself up off the floor!

What a day it's been.

Endless redialling and initial failure in the morning.

A customer's server's broken (not my fault! Honest!) so the evening off I'd hoped for has been ruined... 

On the bright side, I passed my first BSL Exam (BSL101) 17/18 scored...

Meanwhile, in other news, today I've been accepted on the first stage on the path to receiving a Hearing Dog. Many hurdles to come but my foot is in the door. 

Here is the email I received in my Inbox at 3.40pm (I didn't get to read it until half-five due to work - blame the knackered server!) :
Good afternoon,

Thank you for applying for a hearing dog. I am pleased to write and confirm you have been successful in applying for a hearing dog.

An Application and Partnership Advisor will contact you directly within the next week to ask you for more information and to tell you what happens next.

Your Advisor need you to send them an audiogram showing your hearing test results. This needs to be sent to us by the 30th April in order to continue with your application.
If you do not have your hearing test results then your Audiologist can send them to you. If you have not had a hearing test before then please book an appointment with an Audiologist as soon as you can.

We do have a large number of people to contact so this may not be straight away. If you have any questions before your Advisor contact you then please contact us.

I am so pleased to welcome you to the application process and my team are looking forward to speaking with you.
So, all the email preparation paid off and the disappointment of not being able to be accepted in the morning's flurry is now banished to the recesses of my mind like a spoiled rag banished to the rubbish bin to be replaced with feelings of hope and, dare I say, joy!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Perseverance definitely required...!

Twice a year the Hearing Dogs charity accepts applications from people wishing to receive a Hearing Dog. The application process allocates a number of places (I have no idea how many and I don't expect Hearing Dogs to reveal this anytime soon) to people wishing to be considered as potential Hearing Dog recipients. This is only the first stage and acceptance at this stage I would imagine is no guarantee that you will finally be accepted as a Hearing Dogs recipient.

The process opens twice a year in April and in October and applicants can apply either by Phone or via Email. There are other methods in place for those who are unable to access Email or the Telephone.

I had already tried to apply in October 2013 however as this was my first time I was unprepared for how quickly the places would go.... I'd rung around midday as far as I can remember and, as we shall see, this was much too late to have even a smidgeon of a chance of being successful!

Fore-armed with the knowledge gained after my previous (admittedly ill-prepared and doomed) attempt at getting on the initial list I was better prepared this time around. I revived my original email that I'd sent in October and updated it slightly and left the email open and ready to send (saved of course... I work in I.T. and know only too well the agonies of unsaved work!)

Just before 9am this morning I had my phone fully charged, my widget (a Nokia LPS-5 Bluetooth loopset) fully charged and connected to my phone and the phone pre-dialled and ready to go.

Fingers poised over phone and mouse button I clicked send and pressed dial as 9am arrived. In case the Email was doomed I then rang the applications phone number to be doubly sure and spent the next 18 minutes pressing redial... constantly... I've never used redial that much in my life I'm sure... (it later turned out that I'd dialled 94 times before finally getting through). After finally getting through I got through to 'reception' and they spent about 5 minutes trying to get me through to an adviser all of which were engaged... Needless to say I was very tense at this point! 

I finally got through to one of the advisors to discover that all the phone places had gone so I asked what happens with the emailed requests which apparently get read in the afternoon. Eeek, more waiting, more tension...

My Hearing Dog Journey. Why, Who and What

Looking around the Internet, I found very little information on the process for applying for a Hearing Dog and the journey beyond. With this in mind I hope that creating this blog will fill in some of the gaps for people who will also be taking this journey and provide information on the process itself, the experiences along the way and the timescales involved. 

I also hope that this blog will help others understand more about what is often described as the forgotten or hidden disability that is deafness and raise awareness. Let's face it, although it is a 'forgotten' disability, 1 in 6 people in this country (the UK) are affected by hearing loss to some degree; that's nearly 10 million people which is an awful lot of people being 'forgotten' or perhaps disregarded to a large degree. 800 thousand people in the UK are affected either severely or profoundly by hearing loss and these are the people who are likely to benefit from receiving a Hearing Dog.

So what are Hearing Dogs? Hearing Dogs act for Deaf people in much the same way that Guide Dogs assist their Blind owners. A Hearing Dog is trained to alert their owner to certain sounds around the house and workplace (and out and about come to that) that they wouldn't ordinarily hear. Dogs are typically trained to alert their owner to sounds such as the doorbell, kitchen timers, alarm clocks and, of course, fire alarms and other alarms.

So, what about me? My deafness is congenital in that I was born Deaf. My mother, while pregnant with me, was a Teacher in Manchester. A pupil who had German Measles (Rubella) attended during the first two weeks of his illness when it is not apparent and yet is still contagious. As a result I was affected by the presence of the Rubella virus which affected my development in the womb. Rubella is very dangerous to developing foetuses as it can cause many problems including limb deformity, Brain damage and of course hearing loss.

My hearing loss is caused by the absence of many of the small hairs in a part of the ear called the Cochlea. The Cochlea is the part of the ear that detects sounds and converts them into neural impulses for transmission onto the Brain. My hearing loss is in the severe to profound range in both ears (I have bilateral sensorineural deafness) which means that I am unable to hear anything except the very loudest sounds without my hearing aids.

This blog will hopefully chronicle my own journey to receiving and living with a Hearing Dog as well as giving some insights and understanding about deafness and what it means to be deaf. 

I hope you'll enjoy the ride with me.