Sensory Impairment

Original Editor - Lucinda hampton

Top Contributors - Lucinda hampton and Kim Jackson  

Introduction[edit | edit source]

VI woman using an aide

Sensory impairment is a condition with which one or more of our special senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste and spatial awareness) is no longer normal. Sensory impairments are an often overlooked and invisible health condition in healthcare.

Certain groups are more at risk of developing sensory impairment. For example

  1. Older Persons. At least 2.2 billion people live with a vision impairment or blindness, and the most of the people with vision impairment (VI) are over the age of 50 years. Over 5% of the world’s population (466 million people) has impaired hearing, with approximately one third occurring in people over 65 years of age.[1]
  2. People with an intellectual disability have a much higher prevalence of sensory impairment (visual and hearing) than in the general population.[2]
  3. Frail Adults. The relationship between sensory impairment and function is reflected in the increased prevalence of physical frailty among those with sensory deficits.  For example The Women’s Health and Aging Studies showed that the elderly with VIs have a 3.5-fold greater chance of being frail over those with out a visual deficit.[3]

Some individuals will have more than one impairment, such as dual sensory impairment (combined sight and hearing loss, or ‘DeafBlindness’).

Health Effects[edit | edit source]

Deaf people signing

The stress of life with sensory impairment puts people at risk of greater health related disorders eg

  • Older persons with sensory impairments risk increased isolation from the outside world. Mild but progressive sight and hearing losses, common with ageing, having a serious effect on a person's quality of life (QOL). Communication, confidence, and independence often being reduced.[4] QOL being further reduced as severity of the sensory impairment increases.[5]
  • Visual and hearing impairments independently and together are associated with poorer cognition and depression.[6]
  • Studies have shown a higher prevalence of psychiatric disorders in children with hearing impairments.[7]
  • Deaf-blind people often have signs of problem behaviour (e.g. self-injury).[7]

Physiotherapy[edit | edit source]

Para-cycling League

The impact of sensory impairment differs from person to person. Management of sensory impairment can be approached through a range of approaches. eg

  • Compensatory (reorganising the environment, adapting the task etc).
  • Mobility needs and appropriate aides
  • Exercise programs that are safe for particular sensory deficit.

See also physiotherapy in related reads below.

Related Reads[edit | edit source]

These pages all relate to this topic

References[edit | edit source]

  1. World Health organisation Sensory functions, disability and rehabilitation Available: (accessed 3.1.2022)
  2. Kiani R, Miller H. Sensory impairment and intellectual disability. Advances in psychiatric treatment. 2010 May;16(3):228-35. Available: (accessed 3.1.2022)
  3. Swenor BK, Lee MJ, Tian J, Varadaraj V, Bandeen-Roche K. Visual impairment and frailty: examining an understudied relationship. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A. 2020 Feb 14;75(3):596-602.Available: 3.1.2022)
  4. Du Feu M, Fergusson K. Sensory impairment and mental health. Advances in psychiatric treatment. 2003 Mar;9(2):95-103.Available: (accessed 3.1.2022)
  5. Tseng YC, Liu SH, Lou MF, Huang GS. Quality of life in older adults with sensory impairments: a systematic review. Quality of Life Research. 2018 Aug;27(8):1957-71. Available: (accessed 3.1.2022)
  6. Rong H, Lai X, Jing R, Wang X, Fang H, Mahmoudi E. Association of sensory impairments with cognitive decline and depression among older adults in China. JAMA Network Open. 2020 Sep 1;3(9):e2014186-.Available: (accessed 3.1.2022)
  7. 7.0 7.1 Carvill S. Sensory impairments, intellectual disability and psychiatry. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research. 2001 Dec;45(6):467-83.Available: (accessed 3.1.2022)