Kathleen Jaques Bennett, BSc, BSc, MSc
In Ontario, 71% of the individuals with poor vision are over 65 years of age. To make matters worse, these seniors often suffer from additional sensory deprivation in the form of hearing loss.1 Sensory deprivation can be defined as the partial or complete loss of any of the five senses. It can lead to embarrassment, social isolation, depression, or the labelling of the patient as demented or infantile by family and caregivers. Vision and hearing loss are strongly correlated to an increased risk of mortality over a five-year period,2 probably because the psychosocial effects take an enormous toll on the afflicted individual. The partial or complete loss of the senses can lead to diminished quality of life, and may predispose an elderly person toward other conditions.
Types of Sensory Deprivation
Sensory deprivation can involve the loss of only one sense, or the combined loss of several senses. The loss of visual acuity associated with age often begins with the development of presbyopia. Presbycusis, the loss of hearing, is more prevalent among men than women.7 As well, touch, taste and smell become less acute with time. All of these forms of sensory deprivation undermine an elderly person's ability to live independently, increasing dependence on caregivers, and can result in the infantilization of the elderly individual. When sensory loss is coupled with another condition such as diabetes, the handicap becomes even more severe.