Information for social care professionals

Early identification

An older lady wearing dark glasses at a forum in Northern IrelandMany of us view the loss of sight and hearing as we get older as an inevitable part of ageing, and because of this, sensory loss often goes unnoticed until the individual reaches crisis point. 

However, dual sensory loss can have a real impact on a person’s independence, communication and mobility, and as such early identification is crucial in ensuring that person continues to enjoy life and that the care they receive from you is meeting their needs fully.

Sense’s research team recently carried out some research on the early identification of sight and hearing loss in care homes, and you can download the full report.

Most older people who are deafblind have some level of hearing and sight, but a loss in both senses makes this much harder to compensate. You may have noticed that some of the older people you work with don’t seem to be aware you are in the room with them, seem shocked when you start talking or ignore you completely this could be a sign they haven’t heard or seen you arriving. They may decline opportunities to socialise with other people or stop doing activities they enjoy, these could be signs of deteriorating hearing and vision. 

As soon as you notice these changes, this is the time to act to ensure they are supported appropriately.  Sense has developed a Sensory Impairment Screening tool which will support you in identifying changes in vision, please see the section below on training for more information.

A better experience for everyone

There are lots of simple and easy ways you can make the care you provide to an individual with sight and hearing loss the best it can be.  Many older people miss communication; ensure that the lighting is right and background noise is down or off before you start talking; you may need to use a light touch on the shoulder to let someone know you have arrived.  Tell people what you are doing or going to do so that they are aware, it can be very frightening to have someone doing things to your or in your home when you don’t know what’s happening.

When organising activities or trips, think about the needs of all those attending including those with dual sensory loss, could you use large print playing cards or blow up the bingo cards for example.

You may want to involve your local sensory impairment or hearing and vision team, who may be able to offer the individual rehabilitation services or specialist equipment such as magnifiers or special headsets for the television and radio.

Providing the right support and finding ways to communicate will make the experience better for everyone involved, whether they are resident, client, family or staff. Our Seeing Me booklet has been written with you in mind.

If you work in care home setting NICE (National Institute for Care Excellence) has published some guidance on the mental well-being of Older People in care homes, this specifically states that the needs of individuals with sensory needs must be identified and met.  You can read the full standard, Mental wellbeing of older people in care homes (QS50), on the NICE website.

First published: Thursday 12 December 2013
Updated: Friday 11 August 2017