Hearing dogs make a huge difference in deaf people’s lives, a new British study shows.
The dogs are trained to alert deaf people to everyday sounds such as doorbells, human voices, baby monitors and alarm clocks, as well as safety-related sounds such as smoke and intruder alarms. The animals also provide companionship and emotional support.
The trial included 165 people in the United Kingdom who either had a hearing dog or had applied to get one.
“This study provides, for the first time, robust evidence on the positive and wide-ranging impacts hearing dogs can make on people’s lives,” said lead author Bryony Beresford, co-director of the Social Policy Research Unit at the University of York.
Compared to study participants who were still waiting to get a hearing dog, those who had one had significantly better mental well-being, were less dependent on others, had fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, and were much less likely to feel isolated and fearful at home or in public.
The researchers also found that those with a hearing dog used fewer health and social care services, according to findings recently published in the journal Trials.
“We know that hearing loss can negatively affect many aspects of people’s lives and, for people with severe hearing loss, hearing devices have limited impact,” Beresford said in a university news release. “This means we need to know the best ways to support people as they live with hearing loss.”
She described the study as “groundbreaking.”
“No one has previously used a randomized control trial to evaluate the impacts of hearing dogs on people’s lives, and within the world of assistance dogs more widely, trials are still incredibly rare,” Beresford added.
Graham Sage, 31, was among the study participants with a hearing dog.
“Losing my hearing was scary,” Sage said in the release. “It made me feel unsafe, I couldn’t follow conversations easily and I became more introverted and felt quite isolated. My hearing dog Jovi has changed all that. He alerts me to sounds and he’s a huge part of my family.”
Sage said Jovi has made him feel more accepting and even proud of his hearing loss.
“He improved my mental well-being enormously and I can’t imagine my life without him,” he said. “My wife Anna and I now have a little girl and it’s comforting to know Jovi can alert me to a baby’s cry and will add to the safety and security of our household.”
The researchers said further study is needed to determine the longer-term impacts that a hearing dog can have.
US Service Animals has more on service dogs for the deaf.
SOURCE: University of York, news release, Nov. 30, 2021