Dementia and sensory loss
Having sight or hearing loss makes things more difficult for the person with dementia who is already working hard to make sense of the world around them. Regular hearing and sight tests, technological aids, environmental improvements, and accessible information and communications can all make a big difference for people with dementia and sensory loss.
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Living with both dementia and sensory loss presents challenges and compounds the problems of each condition. Living with dementia may make it hard to recognise sensory loss as it develops, and living with sensory loss may also make it harder to recognise the onset and progression of dementia. Dementia can cause problems with vision and hearing, without an eye or ear condition causing this.
Sight loss is very common among older people, and yet it can be missed as the symptoms may be misinterpreted as resulting from dementia. It is important to understand the signs and symptoms of sight loss and ensure that older people have regular eye examinations. There are many ways in which communication can be improved with people with sight loss and dementia.
Some research has shown that people with hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia, but the exact reasons for this are unclear. Both hearing loss and dementia can make communication more difficult. If a person's hearing loss is managed well, this can help them cope better with their dementia too.
We are learning more about the particular issues faced by deaf people with dementia, but still there is no real concept of what 'living well with dementia' means for deaf people nor what appropriate services might consist of. The early signs of dementia are often missed in deaf people, because of problems with communication. Awareness of dementia in the deaf community is low and poor access to information in accessible languages and media reinforces this problem.
'Dual sensory loss' or 'deafblindness' refers to having a combination of significant visual and hearing problems. Signs and symptoms of dementia and deafblindness can be quite similar. As both dementia and deafblindness are conditions that involve deterioration in functioning over time, a person's whole needs should be reviewed regularly in order to support them properly.
All SCIE resources are free to download, however to access the following download you will need a free MySCIE account:
- What the research says: Sensory loss
Useful links Open
Dementia and deafness: What you need to know
This 2005 booklet from Deaf Action in Scotland is based on an exploratory study into the experience of being Deaf with dementia conducted by Deaf Action and the University of Stirling’s Dementia Services Development Centre.
Dementia and sight loss
The RNIB website has an extensive section on dementia and sight loss, including a leaflet on ‘Dementia and sight loss’, frequently asked questions, and a factsheet on ‘Cataracts and dementia’.
Good practice in the design of homes and living spaces for people with dementia and sight loss
These 2014 guidelines from Thomas Pocklington Trust and Stirling University present practical steps to improve the independence of people with dementia and sight loss, whether they are living in their own home or a care home. The resource is available in audio format as well as in written text.
This 2013 report from Action on Hearing Loss and the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre (UCL) argues that a joined-up approach is needed to the assessment, diagnosis and management of both hearing loss and dementia.
The Dementia and Sight Loss Interest Group
This is an interest group within VISION 2020, and brings together a range of organisations working in this area. In 2016, VISION 2020 UK and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists launched a quality standard to help ophthalmology departments adapt and design their services to meet the needs of people with dementia..