Hi-VisUK is a highly ambitious charity that, amongst other aims, is working to increase the number of older people with dual sensory loss or deafblindness requesting and receiving a specialist deafblind assessment. This is no easy task and yet it is the most vital step.
Trying to reach older people with age acquired deafblindness is a significant challenge despite the numbers. The vast majority of older people likely to have this devastating condition, those aged 50 years and above, do not see themselves as deafblind. Department of Health (DH) describes this in its Care Act policy guidance (2014) when it acknowledges “many people do not define themselves as either deafblind or having dual sensory loss.”
There are several issues and challenges in recognising deafblindness in older people. For example there are older people receiving social service care who are not identified as deafblind. DH explains: “this could be because an assessment was carried out when only one sense was affected or because both senses have deteriorated since the care package (including residential care) has started.” Other impairments including those that are often associated with ageing “may mask the deafblindness.”
This presents a nationwide picture where age-acquired deafblindness really is a Cinderella condition. This despite it currently affecting an estimated 600,000 older people. Government estimates 40/100,000 people have the condition in this country but this is likely to be closer to 572/100,000 according to one research report (Emerson, E, SENSE 2010). By 2035 the numbers of older people with deafblindness are set to rise by 60% within main population trends as people live longer lives (CeDR 2010, ONS 2012).