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Seniors with Dual Sensory Loss at Greater Risk of Falls

Posted January 30, 2018

Seniors with Dual Sensory Loss at Greater Risk of Falls

Although vision and hearing loss are part of the aging process, the idea that nothing can be done about it is a regrettable, long-held belief. With unmanaged hearing and vision loss, seniors can become withdrawn and socially isolated, which can lead to a breakdown of support networks and a risk of depression.

What is dual sensory loss?

An inability or decreased ability to respond to stimuli that affect our senses

95% of the information about the world around us comes from our hearing and sight. Medical conditions and aging can impact the senses. Vision and hearing loss are among the most common age-related conditions affecting the elderly.

Causes of vision loss include:

• Cataracts

• Diabetic Retinopathy

• Glaucoma

• Macular Degeneration

• Retinitis Pigmentosa

• Stroke

Causes of hearing loss include:

• Genetics/hereditary

• Viral causes (e.g. meningitis)

• Menieres Disease

• Age related (presbyacusis)

• Industrial and noise induced

• Tintinitus

• Stroke

According to the Canadian Institute of Health Information in 2016-17, of the 311,104 seniors who accessed health care services in Ontario, 70,080 experienced dual sensory loss. Of those experiencing dual sensory loss:

• 23,578 or 22.7% were living in long term care homes in Ontario.

• 46,502 seniors or 22.4% with dual sensory loss were receiving home care services in Ontario.1

People with Dual Sensory Loss:

• have a distorted perception of the world

• appear to be withdrawn or isolated, be deprived of basic motivations

• have extreme difficulty establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships with others

• lack the ability to communicate with their environment in meaningful way

• may be frustrated

• have developed unique or awkward learning styles

• feel disconnected from the world

• be fearful or overly cautious of exploring the world around them due to past experience (safety, fear of injury)

• feel a loss of independence and control

The impact on quality of life for seniors with dual sensory loss include:

• Cognitive impact

• Communication

• Health

• Mental health/ depression

• Mobility, activities of daily living

• Social isolation

• Increased risk of falls, unable to participate in activities from before

Falls are the most common cause of injury for older Canadians. Every year, an estimated 1 in 3 seniors aged 65 years and older are likely to fall at least once.2 The consequences of falls later in life can be serious, resulting in hospitalizations, reduced quality of life, chronic pain, injuries such as hip fractures, and increased risk of death.3

People with dual sensory loss may have greater risks for falls than those with single sensory loss. While balance is typically considered a vestibular function, vision and somatosensory information also play a significant role. Orientation and mobility training will address falls and fall prevention to avoid injuries that can be devastating for seniors with coexisting conditions like dual sensory loss.4

How can you ensure the safety of seniors with dual sensory loss and help prevent falls?

• Doors ajar – leave door either shut or fully open. Half open door are easy to bump into.

• Cupboards doors should not be left open, they’re often eye level presenting additional risk of damaging remaining vision.

• Think about items left on the floors…shoes by front door, bags left on the floor from grocery shopping, purses etc… Have designated area for these items.

• Dining table, ensure chairs are positioned in or put back in, a chair is easy to bump into or fall over.

• Rounded edges on tables, work surfaces in kitchen/bathroom and other furniture will cause less of an impact if bumped into.

• Pot handles left unattended and protruding on counter/stove top.

• Area rugs with curled edges can become a trip hazard.

• Review the living environment for potential risk.

If you support seniors with dual sensory loss, DeafBlind Ontario Services can help create accessible environments and safe orientation for seniors. Contact us 1-855-340-3267 or t.veldhuis@deafblindontario.com.


1 - Canadian Institute of Health Information (2016-17)

2 - Office of the Provincial Health Officer, British Columbia, 2003.

3 - Public Health Agency of Canada, 2005.

4 - Busacco, D. Make your practice accessible for patients with dual sensory loss. Advance Magazine for Audiologists. 2009;11(3):51-53.