Deafblindness is a combination of sight and hearing loss that affects a person's ability to communicate, access information and get around.
It's also sometimes called "dual sensory loss" or "multi-sensory impairment".
A deafblind person won't usually be totally deaf and totally blind, but both senses will be reduced enough to cause significant difficulties in everyday life.
These problems can occur even if hearing loss and vision loss are mild, as the two senses work together and one would usually help compensate for loss of the other.
Signs of deafblindness
Deafblindness most commonly affects older adults, although it can affect people of all ages, including babies and young children.
In older people, it may develop gradually and the person themselves may not realise their vision and/or hearing is getting worse at first.
Signs of a problem can include:
- needing to turn up the volume on the television or radio
- difficulty following a conversation
- not hearing noises such as a knock at the door
- asking others to speak loudly, slowly and more clearly
- needing to hold books or newspapers very close, or sitting close to the television
- difficulty moving around unfamiliar places
If someone already has either a hearing or vision problem, it's important to look out for signs that suggest the other sense may be getting worse too.
Read more about the symptoms of deafblindness.
Seeing your GP
Visit your GP if you think your hearing and/or eyesight may be getting worse.
If you're worried about a friend or family member, encourage them to speak to their GP.
It's best to seek advice as soon as possible, as treatment for some underlying causes of deafblindness (see below) can be more effective if started early. Early diagnosis will also ensure the person is able to access local support services sooner.
Read more about diagnosing and assessing deafblindness.
What causes deafblindness?
There are many potential causes of deafblindness. Some babies are born deafblind, but in many cases the hearing and/or vision loss occurs later in life.
Causes of deafblindness include:
- age-related hearing loss
- genetic conditions, such as Usher syndrome
- an infection picked up during pregnancy, such as rubella (German measles)
- cerebral palsy – a problem with the brain and nervous system that mainly affects movement and co-ordination
- eye problems associated with increasing age, such as cataracts
Read more about the causes of deafblindness.
Living with deafblindness
A range of care and support services is available to help deafblind people.
Each deafblind person will have a different level of hearing and sight loss, which means they'll have their own individual care needs.
The general aims of care for a deafblind person are to:
- preserve and maximise any remaining sight or hearing the person has – this could involve treating underlying conditions like cataracts, wearing glasses or using a hearing aid
- teach alternative methods of communication – such as hand on hand signing or braille
- help retain or develop as much independence as possible – for example, by training the person to use a long cane, a guide dog or offering a communicator guide
Your local authority should arrange an assessment to determine exactly what care and support is needed.
Read more about managing deafblindness.