The following guest blog  post by Richard Kramer, Deputy Chief Executive of Sense, has been written to complement our new collection of essays, ‘Alone in the Crowd: Loneliness and diversity’.

Older people who sight or hearing problems

Few conditions can be more isolating than being both deaf and blind. Older people with sensory loss can be among the loneliest members of society, feeling marginalised even from the wider disabled community.

Research demonstrates what a problem this is: it is estimated that there will be 489,000 older people with dual sensory loss by 2030.   Many of us know older people who don’t hear or see so well.  This is no a minority issue. This is a real concern not just for people with sight and hearing loss themselves, but for their families and society as a whole.

The effects of dual sensory loss

Dual sensory loss can be frustrating, leaving people depressed, angry or withdrawn. At some point in their lives many older people with sensory loss become socially and emotionally isolated.

Communication is an important part of building relationships, and older people with sensory loss often have limited means of making themselves heard. When people with dual sensory loss become older, these feelings of isolation are exacerbated.

Early intervention

When it comes to helping older people, with dual sensory loss the sooner we can help prevent feelings of isolation, the better. For example, 77-year-old George was helped by a sympathetic GP who requested an assessment to identify key areas that would help him regain his confidence to take part in society.

But research shows nearly 1 in 5 deafblind people receive no social care at all, often reporting problems with mental wellbeing as they grow more isolated.

Living with loneliness

Though lack of support from the medical and care professions can be damaging, alienation from friends and even family can cause a profound sense of loneliness. One older person said, “My relationship with my family has always been difficult, but it’s worse now because we can’t communicate.”

There are many initiatives to alleviate loneliness among people who are deaf or blind, but often they cannot cater for the needs of deafblind people, who might struggle to use a helpline without specialist equipment.

The benefits of group and peer support

At Sense, our specialist work means we are able to respond to the unique needs of deafblind people.  For example, our specialist intervention such as mobility training and communicator guides help people to live independently and to be part of their local community.

We’re also piloting and evaluating other approaches: our a ‘social prescribing’ scheme integrates primary care, arts, and social care offering older people with sensory loss the chance to get involved with activities involving arts and music– all in the company of like-minded people.  Outcomes are increased self -confidence, new friendships, increasing well being and reduced social isolation. GPs have a better awareness of the barriers facing people with sensory loss and individuals feel able to articulate their communication needs.

Our forums are also another important way for deafblind people and their families to share experiences. One forum user said, “The most useful thing I find at the forum is companionship.”

We believe that by working with deafblind people, charities, the medical profession and the community, we can make the lives of people less isolated – and more enjoyable.