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Age-related sensory loss

Age-related sensory loss affects most of us as we grow older.

With the ageing population, introducing an approach towards integrated health care and inclusive environments could be a chance for those affected by the sensory loss.

Approximately 360 million people in the world have a hearing loss that affects their everyday life and functional ability.

RNIB states that 4 in 5 people in England has some kind of visual impairment are over 60, one in two people aged 90 and over are living with sight loss. According to Action on Hearing Loss, more than 40% of people over 50 years old have hearing loss, rising to 71% of people over the age of 70.

It is estimated that around 5.9% of the population of Middlesbrough has some form of sensory impairment. The majority of those people are aged over 65.

Sensory Loss has a significant impact on the feeling of loneliness and experiencing isolation, as well as poor mental health. Still, many services and businesses don’t offer accessible information. Simple things like GP services allowing people to book appointments through the text messages, or creating a quiet corner at the local coffee shop can improve things for people with sensory loss.

Integrated health system

Sensory Loss has a high economic cost as well as social consequences for individuals, communities and public health. Sensory deprivation is also often one of the multiple illnesses that the person experience, as well as cause of many more (like depression, anxiety, functional and cognitive decline). Current health assessment doesn’t allow to take a broader approach and focus on increasing people capacity and functional ability.

According to the WHO Global strategy and action plan on ageing and health outlines that problems like chronic pain, or difficulties with hearing or seeing are often overlooked by health professionals. There is a need for structural changes in the health system to enable access to integrated service that will be person-centred and focused on increasing person’s functional ability. As a first step, services will need to be designed around older people’s needs and preferences.

Age-friendly environments ensure that communities are friendlier and more accessible for people all ages and all abilities. Noise reduction in public places, quite corners, alternative ways of communications could be introduced to ensure that people with sensory loss feel included.

Living with sensory loss workshop

In February 2019, Ageing Better Middlesbrough organised a workshop with Middlesbrough Council, public health staff, local voluntary sector organisations, and representatives of older people to talk about their experience of living or supporting people with visual and / or hearing impairments. Personas were created to illustrate examples of challenges and aspirations of people with sensory loss. It helped to draw a diverse picture of people who live in Middlesbrough.

Consultations were also carried out with voluntary sector organisations and an action group of older people helped to prioritise ideas presented at the sensory loss workshop. The focus was on accessibility of businesses and services. The Ageing Better Middlesbrough programme was made more accessible for people with sensory issues in a number of ways. These included:

  • a new text booking system, and changes to information and communication
  • making all information available in large print or braille
  • making the newsletter accessible online
  • most staff and some volunteers getting visual awareness training to help people with sight loss
  • events and meetings being made more accessible for people with vision and hearing issues
  • the development of an Ageing Better Middlesbrough audio-newsletter

We hope that other organisations take the same approach in making their programmes and websites more accessible. Please get in touch if you want to discuss this in more detail. Contact Emma McInnes (Health Improvement Specialist - Ageing Well/Dementia) by calling 01642 728756 or email emma _mcinnes@middlesbrough.gov.uk.

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