Communication and psychosocial consequences of sensory loss in older adults: overview and rehabilitation directions

Authors: Heine C, Browning CJ.



Aging gives rise to numerous physical, psychological, emotional and social alterations. In this sense, there has been an increasing interest in recent years for the diagnosis and treatment of older adults with dual sensory loss, although the studies conducted are insufficient to estimate the prevalence of this disorder. Researchers Kirchner and Peterson have published a study with the objective of calculating the prevalence of dual sensory loss, concluding that 70% of adults over 65 years of age also suffered hearing loss. However, it is difficult to compare prevalence studies, since some base their research in nursing homes while others analyse general populations in the community. Also, several studies do not adjust their population studies with respect to age groups, while others use different schemes to determine vision and hearing loss, which may give rise to mix results. In addition, the studies conducted on the dual vision and hearing loss haven’t followed the same method, a fact that lowers the quality of the studies as a whole.

Sensory losses have influenced the communication capacity of the elderly. For example, Bergman asserts that speech comprehension undergoes a gradual change as age increases, due to peripheral and central disturbances that cause older people to perceive only part of the spoken message. Communication is the basis of social interaction, and its effectiveness is vital for this group with sensory loss. These losses can influence their psychological functioning by interfering with their social behaviour. These imbalances cause those affected to become dependent on assistants or caregivers. However, loneliness leads to a decrease in socialization, increases depression, decreases the quality of life and ultimately increases social isolation. To this we must add that people with decreased visual capacity have restricted mobility and an inadequate awareness of danger, which also restricts the usual social contact. Certain studies support that people with disabilities identify with each other. However, beyond the psychological state, a striking factor is that certain studies, such as Caraballese’s, showed that quality of life was significantly related to the loss of vision and hearing. Therefore, and making a brief synthesis, the dual sensory loss of sight and hearing leads to a lack of social communication that threatens the independence of older adults and the well-being of their health, due to inadequate adaptations to a new lifestyle.

Fortunately, this can be solved with rehabilitation practices. For example, it is convenient to adopt routines to allow easier adaptations to the new situation. Likewise, it is convenient for the individual to have a positive attitude and be optimistic in order to learn new compensatory skills, avoiding behaviours such as rejecting any type of help or overly relying on others. In other words, there must be a balance in the treatment with the aim of promoting a sense of independence and autonomy. Development in the rehabilitation of communication strategies, such as requests for clarification and conversation strategies, addressing the personal opinions and feelings of the disabled in the intervention programs is also transcendent. Finally, as Dahlin suggests, an educational health program may be effective and beneficial for older adults with dual sensory loss. Therefore, rehabilitation requires a broad scope of effects and must be a multidisciplinary approach.

In short, the present study has highlighted the link between sensory loss and the aging process, decreased communication performance and poor psychosocial functioning, adding a brief itinerary on the different rehabilitation practices that should be considered before such cases.