What does it mean to have a dual sensory loss?
A dual sensory loss describes the combined loss of vision and hearing.
95% of the information we receive comes from our eyes and ears (DeafBlind Ontario Services). When individuals do not have access to visual and auditory stimuli, they have the right to access that information in other ways.
- They find it difficult to ‘hear’ when the light is dim.
- They ask you to repeat yourself when you are talking to them.
- They do not react to sounds and voices coming from behind them.
- They start touching people to get their attention.
- They increase the volume on television or radio.
- They have difficulty hearing or following conversations in group settings.
- They have to hold something very close to their eyes to read it.
- They do not make eye contact.
- They do not react to visual cues and gestures (i.e. if another person extends their hand for a handshake).
- They often bump into objects, even if they are told that they are there.
- You catch them continuing a conversation when a person has walked away or left the room.
Causes of Hearing Loss
❖ Aging process
❖ Physical trauma
❖ Exposure to loud noise
❖ Disease (i.e. otosclerosis)
❖ Infection (i.e. measles, mumps)
Causes of Vision Loss
❖ Aging process (i.e. age-related macular degeneration)
❖ Disease (i.e. diabetic retinopathy, stroke)
❖ Injury or physical trauma (i.e. acquired brain injury)
❖ Infection (i.e. meningitis)
5 Common Myths about Sensory Loss
1) Individuals who are blind cannot see at all and individuals who are deaf cannot hear at all.
There are many different types and variations of vision loss. Some people are totally blind, and others have some residual vision. Some people only have central vision and others only have peripheral vision.
There are also many different types of hearing loss. Some people are totally deaf, and others may have some residual hearing. For instance, some people have trouble hearing voices from far away, but can hear perfectly fine if you are standing right next to them. You do not have to shout. Some people have trouble hearing high-pitched voices, and can only hear low-pitched voices.
2) People who cannot see or hear have a heightened sense of touch.
Many people believe that people who cannot see or hear have a heightened sense of touch. This is not true, nothing changes in your biological make-up if you have do not have vision and hearing.
That being said, people with a combined loss of both vision and hearing may focus more on their sense of touch to ensure that they have access to information. Orientation and Mobility training, and Occupational Therapy can help the person develop skills to utilize their sense of touch effectively.
3) People with dual sensory loss can’t do anything by themselves.
Many people with dual sensory loss are able to live quite independently. Certain tasks need to be adjusted to accommodate for sensory loss. Some individuals may require assistance in tasks of daily living, while others may not. Some may require specialized training as they learn how to cope with their dual sensory loss, however, this does not mean that they can’t do it on their own.
4) People who have dual sensory loss are ‘dumb’ or ‘mute.’
The terms ‘dumb’ and ‘mute’ refer to someone who cannot speak a spoken language. While it may be true that they do not use a spoken language, the terms ‘dumb’ and ‘mute’ are archaic and many people find them offensive.
Rather than labeling an individual as ‘dumb’ or ‘mute’ if they do not speak, instead use different phrases, such as “communicates using gestures’ or ‘writes notes to communicate.’
5) People who have dual sensory loss just need hearing aids and glasses.
While hearing aids and glasses may be helpful to some people, they may not be appropriate for everyone. While someone who is deaf may be wearing hearing aids, they may still only be able to hear loud, environmental sounds and will not be able to hear your voice. If an individual is wearing glasses, they may not be able to see items far away.
It is important to remember that both glasses and hearing aids require attention from specialists and need to be adjusted and monitored regularly to determine if they are working effectively.
When working with someone living with dual sensory loss, it is important to remember that the combination of these two disabilities comes with unique challenges that go above not being able to see or not being able to hear. People with dual sensory loss are often isolated, do not have many people around them who are willing and able to communicate, face orientation and mobility challenges, and much more.