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Increasing numbers of older people are developing hearing and vision problems. Often this hearing and vision loss comes on very gradually. Older people themselves, and others around them, may not recognise or understand what is happening.

Combined hearing and sight loss can cause problems with communication, getting around and accessing information. This can cause difficulties with many everyday activities and can make people feel isolated and excluded.

Indicators of hearing loss

If an elderly person is losing their hearing they may:

  • complain that other people mumble or speak too quickly
  • ask that people to repeat what they have said
  • ask people to speak louder
  • repeat words to verify what’s been said
  • find it difficult to keep up conversations in a noisy environment
  • have difficulty understanding unfamiliar people or accents
  • appear confused because they try to respond but haven’t understood what was said
  • get tired in conversations because of the need to concentrate
  • withdraw from situations where conversation is expected
  • need TV or radio volume louder than is comfortable for other people
  • find it hard to hear the telephone or doorbell
  • use a hearing aid or loop system.

Indicators of visual loss

If an elderly person is losing their sight they may:

  • find it hard to identify objects or familiar faces
  • need more light for reading and other activities
  • find it hard to cope with glare, such as bright sunlight
  • usually sit close to the TV
  • have unusual reading habits, like holding a book close to their face
  • give up reading, watching television and other activities
  • are unable to find small objects
  • spill food or knock over cups
  • stop eating because they can’t see their food
  • wear mismatched colours or have stained clothing
  • have difficulty moving around – walking slowly or with less confidence
  • bump into things
  • have difficulties when light levels change
  • have difficulties with unfamiliar routes or places.

One of the challenges for older people with deafblindness is being able to move around safely. Simple changes to their environment, mobility training and guiding, all make a big difference.

Many older people who live in care homes or receive care in their own homes have hearing and vision loss. Providing good quality care means recognising their needs.