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What is a sensory impairment?

A sensory impairment is when one or more of the senses is impaired such as sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing or spatial awareness. This could be a minor or a full loss of that sense and includes disabilities such as deafness and blindness but can also be the result of a neurological disorder such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or Dementia.

The loss of a sense may make it difficult for someone to communicate with friends, family or carers and explain their needs or to navigate the world around them easily, which is why they might require sensory impairment care.

Common causes of sensory impairment

A sensory impairment can be caused by several factors such as genetics, environment, accident and as a complication relating to a particular medical condition, some examples include:


Genetic – There are many eye conditions that can be linked to genetics, and these might cause blindness from birth or develop progressively.

Environmental – Sometimes environmental factors can affect our eyesight such as UV exposure, dust and debris and chemicals.

Medical complications – Sometimes blindness might be caused by another medical condition such as diabetes, glaucoma, measles, meningitis, dementia, MD, or other progressive diseases. Blindness might also be the result of an accident where there is eye trauma.


Genetic – Half of those born with deafness are due to genetic factors and include conditions such as Treacher Collins syndrome, Stickler syndrome, Waardenburg syndrome or issues with the development of the Cochlear.

Environmental – Environmental causes of deafness can be due to exposure to loud noise – either a sudden event or over time, impacted ear wax, perforated ear drum, trauma to the ear or head, exposure to chemicals or a sudden change in air pressure.

Medical complications – Deafness may occur as a complication of diseases such as meningitis, chickenpox, jaundice, ear infection, dementia, progressive conditions, and old age.

Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory processing disorder affects how the brain processes stimuli and might make someone overly sensitive to things others aren’t. It is a spectrum, much like autism spectrum disorder, so can affect people in different ways. Some people may be averse to loud noises, dislike being touched, have a strong aversion to certain foods, struggle with uncomfortable clothing, hate certain smells, want to avoid crowds and many other sensory implications. 

Whilst this is mostly associated with autism, it can also be common with dementia, and they can experience sensory overload. They may also experience a loss of sensation and find it difficult to distinguish discomfort or pain, heat or cold. They may also find it harder to eat or swallow food, which is why they will often need their food to be cut into small pieces that are easy to swallow.

Sensory impairment care needs to be specialised, with carers experienced in specific sensory disabilities so they know how to effectively communicate with the person they are assisting to put them at ease.

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