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Hearing and Vision Q1 2022

Dual sensory loss can impact all aspects of life

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Gabrielle H Saunders

Trustee and Member, Adult Rehabilitation Interest Group, British Society of Audiology

Rebecca E. Millman

Chair, Cognition in Hearing Special Interest Group, British Society of Audiology

Sudhira Ratnayake

Trustee, British Society of Audiology

Someone with dual sensory loss (DSL) has problems with both their hearing and eyesight (hearing loss and vision loss). It is also known as ‘deafblindness’. This doesn’t mean the person is totally deaf and totally blind, just that both senses are affected.

DSL has major effects on people’s health, wellbeing, quality of life and independence because it affects ordinary daily activities, like shopping and going to the doctor (which mostly use vision) and social activities like chatting to friends and family (which mostly uses hearing).

Causes of DSL

The condition can affect people of all ages and for many reasons. Babies can be born with DSL (congenital DSL) due to rare genetic conditions or complications during pregnancy – such as a mother catching rubella when pregnant. It can also be caused by genetic conditions like Usher syndrome, by an illness like meningitis, or even a severe head injury. Most commonly though, DSL happens gradually as we age and so it is much more common in older people.

The number of people with DSL varies greatly across the world because of differences in the availability of healthcare that can prevent or cure eye and ear diseases.

More effects that one condition alone

It is often said that with DSL ‘one plus one is more than two’, meaning that the negative effects of DSL add up to more than the effects of vision loss only and hearing loss only. There is a good reason for this – because we usually use our eyes when our ears aren’t working well and vice versa. This isn’t possible for someone with DSL.

For example, when it is hard to hear we look at the face and lips of the person speaking or use subtitles when watching the TV – but if someone has poor eyesight, the benefit they get from these cues will be limited. Similarly, someone with poor eyesight can get a talking watch to tell the time or use a text-to-speech app to listen to books – but can’t use these if they have poor hearing.

Support is available

Because of this, people with DSL can have a hard time during school, finding employment and managing the home. This can result in them feeling lonely, isolated and depressed. However, there are many organisations that specifically provide support and help for people with DSL or deafblindness.

Organisations like the National Center on Deaf Blindness, RNIB, Sense, WFDB and Deafblind International all have great resources that can help support those in need.

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