A sensory impairment is when senses such as sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste or spatial awareness are affected and not operating as well as they should be and therefore impacting someone’s ability to use that sense properly, or at all.
The most common, familiar and impactful types of sensory impairment are related to sight loss or hearing loss. These can affect people of any age from birth to old age, but can particularly develop or become obstructive during older age.
There are various examples of sensory impairment, but the most common and the ones we are most familiar with will be those that affect hearing and sight. These can be of various levels from severe to slight and some may happen suddenly, over time or from birth.
Autism Spectrum Disorder can affect sensory processing and reactions to surroundings or a particular sensitivity to certain sounds, touch or stimuli.
Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological condition which affects a person’s ability to interpret sensory messages from the brain into appropriate responses. This might mean being unable to tolerate bright lights and loud noises, refusing to wear clothing because of how it feels, being distracted by background noises, a dislike of being touched and reduced spatial awareness.
There are different levels of hearing, ranging from someone who is deaf and therefore profoundly hearing impaired and uses British Sign Language to communicate, to deaf for someone who is profoundly to moderately deaf or hearing impaired for someone who is moderately to mildly hearing impaired. It is usually up to the individual as to how they wish to identify themselves.
Age-related hearing loss is the largest cause of hearing loss in the UK and someone might notice their hearing becoming worse over time. This might be due to cell degeneration or to exposure to loud noises or illness over their lifetime.
For example, some people may become deaf or have hearing impairment due to an illness such as mumps or rubella, injury or infection, an accident, medication they are taking, a burst eardrum or exposure to loud noises such as music, machinery or a sudden explosion.
Some hearing loss can be treated with a hearing aid or implant depending on its severity, others may rely on lip reading or sign language to communicate.
Some people may not realise their hearing is deteriorating but others may notice things such as them listening to the TV loudly, not always noticing when someone is talking to them, not hearing a knock at the door or asking people to speak loudly or repeat themselves.
To some people there is still a stigma to wearing hearing aids or they may not want to admit their hearing has deteriorated, but getting them the right care and a hearing aid if it is appropriate can make a huge difference.
Like deafness and hearing impairment, blindness can occur from birth or later on in life. There are two million people in the UK living with sight loss and there are different levels of blindness such as sight loss that affects your central vision, your ability to see detail within your visual field or how much you can see around the edge of your vision when looking straight ahead.
Again, there are many different causes of sight loss which can range from a genetic or age-related degeneration, injury or infection or illness such as cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma or detached retinas.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is another common cause which affects the middle part of the vision and will usually begin to affect people in their 50s or 60s. While the exact cause is unknown, it can be linked to smoking, high blood pressure, being overweight or genetics.
Deaf blindness or dual-sensory loss is when someone experiences both hearing and sight loss and therefore one sense can’t compensate for the other. It is most common in older people and can sometimes be mis-diagnosed as Dementia due to the confusion it can cause.
Symptoms can include listening to the TV or radio more loudly, difficulty following a conversation, not hearing background noises, reading very close to the face or sitting close to the television or having increasing difficulty getting around unfamiliar environments. Usually in their own home, they are familiar enough in their surroundings to cope.
Sensory impairment may be more common than you think. In the UK, one in thirty people have sight loss, that’s more than two million people. The definition of sight loss and a vision impairment is anyone whose vision is worse than 6/12 – halfway down the optician’s letter chart and the point at which vision loss requires someone to surrender their driving license. Out of these, 340,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted. These people have a Certification of Vision Impairment (CVI) and typically someone is not eligible until their vision is worse than 6/60 – they could not read the top letter on the opticians chart.
Eighty per cent of those with sight loss are over sixty-five and sixty per cent are over seventy-five. Sixty per cent of those with sight loss are women, but this could be because they are also more likely to live longer.
There are eleven million people in the UK with hearing loss, with one in six of the adult population affected and eight million of these are over sixty. 900,000 people are severely or profoundly deaf and 12,000 have cochlear implants. Over six and a half million people with hearing loss could benefit from hearing aids, but only around two million use them. This could be down to cost, awareness or embarrassment.
Again, hearing loss increases with age and forty-two per cent of people over fifty have hearing loss and this increases to seventy-one per cent of people over seventy. Interestingly, older people who live in care homes are much more likely to be affected, with around seventy-five per cent having a hearing problem.
Someone living with a sight or hearing impairment from birth or a young age is likely to adapt and find ways to cope with their disability. For someone older this can be difficult to get used to and mean losing part of their independence.
Whether you’re a family carer or looking to hire a carer, it is important to allow someone dealing with reduced sensory ability to be able to attempt what they can and offer help tactfully. This not only allows them to maintain some of their independence and get used to their sensory impairment, but also helps them adapt to this change.
We have many carers available who are experienced in working with people with sensory impairment, some with British Sign Language or Braille experience.
Whether you need care for someone with a long-term sensory impairment or someone who is getting used to it, we have experienced, kind and understanding carers on hand to help around the home, with everyday tasks and socialising for anything from a few hours a day to live-in care.
For more information, please get in touch with Live In Solutions today.
A sensory impairment is an overarching term to describe deafness, blindness, Deafblindness and anything that affects one of the senses such as sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste and spatial awareness. A sensory impairment could be something someone is born with or develops as a result of an illness or age. Likewise, a sensory impairment could develop as the result of an illness or an accident.
Aging can affect your senses and they can become less sharp, making it harder for you to notice details. For example, as your hearing ages you may find it difficult to hear higher frequencies and may need people to speak louder to you to hear them over background noise. Eyesight also changes as we age and you may need glasses for reading, close up, far away or multiple lenses. Aging raises the threshold for you to notice stimulation and sensation so your sense become slower and you may need assistance.
Dementia can already make it harder to communicate, so a sensory impairment can make this even more difficult. For example, hearing loss can make it difficult to process what is going on around you or what people are saying. Someone with sight loss and dementia can make someone feel more disorientated and make mobility difficult.
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