Dual sensory loss: The importance of early specialist assessment

Featured article - 25 July 2016
By Bernard Quinn, Director of Development, In Good Hands

Head-shot of the author, Bernard Quinn, Director of Development, In Good Hands

The majority of elderly people will struggle, quite often alone, with some level of dual sensory loss. They are often not on any list nor will they have been properly assessed.

Since 2001 local authorities (LAs) in England have had a specific duty to identify deafblind people and assess their need for care and support. In 2001 the Government estimated that LAs should be identifying 40 deafblind people per 100,000 of the general population. Research by Sense (2010) suggests the real prevalence of deafblindness is far higher at 572 per 100,000. Case study evidence by SCENE suggests it could be even higher.

The prevalence of co-occurring sight and hearing difficulties increases dramatically with ageing; 78% of people with this condition are over 60 years of age with two thirds of those being above 70 years.

Numbers identified has always been low as have been the number of adult health and social care workers trained and experienced in age-acquired deafblindness. Fifteen years after the guidance not one LA has come anywhere near identifying even the minimum estimated numbers in their areas (Sense 2010, SCENE 2016).

Consequently people can suffer. Now, the Care Act 2014 brings an overdue opportunity to re-examine the problem of low identification and consequent missed opportunities to prevent, reduce or delay the development of need for care.

Savings to LAs of earlier specialist assessment and more informed interventions could be significant at individual level – every day an older person with dual sensory impairment is not in residential care could save about £600.

The opportunity is there to address this challenge by increasing the number of older people being identified at the earliest possible point of contact and by increasing the expertise and skills of those assessing the care and support needs of this group. Some may not need expensive care and support to achieve their personal outcomes they might just need advice and guidance - earlier contact and identification could enable this.

The key to this opportunity is training of all health and care workers engaging with older people. Training in spotting the signs of dual sensory difficulties in the elderly and how to appropriately and comprehensively understand the impact the condition is having on their wellbeing.

It is a requirement under the Care Act to have trained and qualified assessors for deafblind people. With people living longer it is predicted that the numbers of older people with dual sensory impairment will increase by 60% by 2030. It is also a social care imperative to get this right.

The Care Act stipulates that the minimum qualification requirement to assess someone who may be deafblind is level three. The Specialist Deafblind Assessor training available from SCENE/SCIE is timely and helps ensure local authorities meet this requirement.

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