As people age a loss of hearing and sight can occur. For a very small amount of people these problems occur with both senses simultaneously or gradually. Although this is often seen as part of the natural aging process and as such thought untreatable, there’s a lot which can be done to help. The number of people experiencing deafblindness in later life is increasing, and it’s thought that this is due to the greater number of people living beyond the age of 85.
The combined loss of both hearing and sight can have a profound affect upon a persons life at any age. This is due to the fact that the affected person can’t use another sense to compensate for their loss. Those who have grown up with a hearing impairment can lose the ability to lip-read as their sight gets worse. Similarly those with a sight impairment can lose their ability to hear clearly, making it significantly more challenging to communicate. Increased isolation can occur, not only due to the loss of conversation and other social factors but also can affect solitary pass times like watching television, reading or listening to the radio. The loss of sight and sound can also make elderly people more physically vulnerable. For example the home can present new found obstacles and may require changes in order to make it safer. Mobility can be a problem for all elderly people, even those without sensory impairments and those suffering from deafblindness in later life can experience several unique problems.Travelling to visit family or friends can also become difficult and can result in a loss of information about the world and increased isolation.
There’s many things you can do to help an older person suffering from dual sensory impairment. Research has shown that minor alteration in individual behaviour can help to reduce social isolation and minimise the risk of depressive symptoms developing. Identifying a problem with sensory impairment at an early stage can also be a great help. This means that specialists can help make alterations to enhance and maintain older people’s autonomy and independence without a great deal of intrusion. This can include minimising noise interference from the environment or facilitating lip reading by making light fall on the face of the speaker. Similarly, improving the lightening level, moving obvious hazards and using tactile or scented clues can be of great assistance. As many people with sensory impairments retain some useful portion of their sight or hearing, equipment such as hearing aids can often be helpful. Similarly, speaking clearly and slowly and keeping your face visible can make it easier to converse. It’s important to make the subject clear from the start, and if you change the subject to make sure the other person is aware. Facial expressions and gestures can also support what you’re saying. When suffering from sensory impairments, communication can be hard work so if the other person gets tired then take a break. Several UK charities such as Sense and Deafbilnd UK run support and social groups. And there’s many local societies for those suffering from sensory impairments where older people can get together and socialise.
Having access to information is vital, whether it be telling the difference between labels on tins or knowing what is happening in the news. It’s important to keep the mind active as we age and sensory impairments can make accessing information difficult. For those who have retained some hearing, audio tapes and CD’s can allow the sufferer to listen at a high volume without disturbing others. Audio books can allow those who are unable to read to pursue their interests in literature or learning. Similarly in those who retain some useful sight, large print (usually 14 point bold or higher) can be used. Also there’s a wide range of magnifiers which can help those with sensory impairments to continue to read newspapers, magazines or food labels.
There’s a great deal of equipment available to help those suffering from sensory impairments. These include textphones, tactile watches and alarm clocks which vibrate under the pillow. For those who find it hard to hear the telephone or doorbell there are vibrating pagers which can alert to these. In addition flashing or vibrating fire alarms can also be installed for extra safety and many fire services will install these for you free of charge.