Understanding Dual Sensory Impairment
At Hi-VisUK, in our training, we talk about the MAC mantra – how DSI significantly affects a person’s Mobility, Access to information and Communication (M-A-C).
DSI has been described as: “a unique and isolating sensory disability…which significantly affects communication, socialisation, mobility and daily living” (Australian Deafblind Council, 2004).
The Pocklington Trust (2009) found: “these (MAC) challenges interact and self-perpetuate…which leads to further loneliness and seclusion”.
This is a problem affecting the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable members of society – our elderly family members and friends, those we provide care and support to as providers of social and health care services.
The two definitions above are incredibly powerful as they focus on the key impact – isolation. But to begin to understand dual sensory impairment it is helpful to know something about hearing loss and sight loss separately (single sensory impairment). Then we can look again at the signs of dual sensory impairment, when both senses deteriorate significantly, and start to understand the critical differences between single and dual sensory impairment.
To put things into context, consider a child born deaf or becoming deafened at an early age. Nowadays they could be offered a cochlear implant or other surgical intervention, learn sign language or be fitted with hearing aids at a time in their development when they will be able to adapt to get the best possible use from this type of support. They will have received skilled support at school.
For older people, age related DSI is becoming increasingly common as we all live longer and is a particularly cruel condition that can rob older people of their independence, affect their ability to communicate, cause isolation and have a negative effect on their mental health and wellbeing.
Hearing aids – distort and amplify all sounds not just conversation – yet older people are routinely fitted with hearing aids without training or, more importantly, the time needed to adapt to their use.
Through a hearing aid, even the most expensive digital types, the sounds you hear are not as natural as when you were younger. This is one of several adjustments you will have to make. But they are very useful and many people feel more confident wearing a hearing than not.
Sign Language – it is important to be aware that, compared to English, British Sign Language (BSL) is a language in its own right and like most languages can take years to gain fluency.
An older person who acquires DSI because of ageing is unlikely to benefit from learning BSL unless they know someone else who uses that language.
Eyesight is an important factor in visual languages like BSL. But it is also a highly important part of communication for most older people. Visual clues such as facial expressions, body language and lip reading all play an important role in communication, increasingly so if both your sight and hearing deteriorate.