Deaf blindness is a medical combination of sight and hearing loss that affects a person’s ability to communicate, access information and get around.
It’s also sometimes referred to as “dual sensory loss” or “multi-sensory impairment”.
A deafblind person won’t often be totally deaf and totally blind, but both senses will be lowered enough to cause great difficulties in everyday life.
These problems can happen even if hearing loss and vision loss are mild, as the two senses work together and one would usually assist compensate for loss of the other.
Signs of deafblindness
Deafblindness most usually affects older adults, although it can affect people of all ages, including babies and young children.
In older people, it may begin gradually and the person themselves may not realise their vision and/or hearing is getting worse at first.
Signs of an issue can include:
- requiring to turn up the volume on the television or radio
- difficulty following a conversation
- not hearing noises such as a knock at the door
- asking others to speak loudly, slowly and more clearly
- having to hold books or newspapers very close, or sitting close to the television
- difficulty moving around unfamiliar places
If someone already has either a hearing or vision issues, it’s important to look out for signs that suggest the other sense may be getting worse too.
Seeing your GP
Visit your GP if you feel your hearing and/or eyesight may be getting worse.
If you’re worried about a friend or family member, encourage them to talk to their GP.
It’s best to seek advice as soon as possible, as treatment for some underlying causes of deafblindness (see below) can be more effective if commenced early. Early diagnosis will also ensure the person is able to access local support services sooner.
What causes deafblindness?
There are several potential causes of deafblindness. Some babies are born deafblind, but in many situations the hearing and/or vision loss occurs later in life.
Causes of deafblindness include:
- age-related hearing loss
- genetic conditions, such as Usher syndrome
- an infection picked up during pregnancy, such as rubella (German measles)
- cerebral palsy – an issue with the brain and nervous system that mainly affects movement and co-ordination
- eye problems linked with increasing age, such as cataracts
Living with deafblindness
A range of care and support services is offered to help deafblind people.
Each deafblind person will have a different level of hearing and sight loss, which means they’ll have their own individual care requirements.
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The general aims of care for a deafblind person are to:
- preserve and maximise any remaining sight or hearing the person has – this could involve treating underlying conditions the likes of cataracts, wearing glasses or using a hearing aid
- teach alternative methods of communication – such as hand on hand signing or braille
- assist retain or develop as much independence as possible – for example, by training the person to use a long cane, a guide dog or offering a communicator guide