“Don’t worry about me, it’s just because I’m old”

I don’t know about you but this is a phrase that I hear too much and would, quite frankly, like to see the back of.  There seems to be a general culture that when you reach a certain age things such as difficulties with hearing and sight are inevitable and not worth bothering with as it’s just ‘part of getting older’.  But why is that the case?  What is the point at which we go from fighting something to accepting the inevitable?  And why does it seem to be age that defines this?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been working on a Department of Health funded project which has been about raising awareness of dual sensory loss in older people.  As part of the project I have spoken with a lot of commissioners, decision makers, clinicians and friends and family of older people.  We’ve spoken about what dual sensory loss is, why it’s important to identify it and what practical and easy things can be done to enable to people to continue enjoying their lives.

Often in these meetings we talk about the impact that a dual sensory loss can have on an older person; for instance, losing confidence to leave the home alone making it difficult to attend doctors’ appointments, shop for food, exercise and meet with friends (there are many more, this is just a snapshot).  Social isolation is also a big factor and a current hot topic; just last month a new piece of research was published which found that nursing home residents with a dual sensory loss experienced faster decline of cognitive function when they were socially isolated.

What has struck me over the past couple of years has been the number of times I’ve seen people’s attitudes change from “why is this important, I don’t know anyone with this” to “oh hang on, I think my Grandmother is probably struggling with this.  What can I do to help?”.

The good news is that it’s not difficult; there are so many simple (and free) things that can make a big difference.  From good communication tactics, to using a liquid level indicator to make a cup of tea or using a magnifier to help with reading – the possibilities really are endless.  For more ideas and tips check out our new Enjoy Life materials.

Many of the ideas in Enjoy Life can also be replicated in GP surgeries, shops and other public settings to make life generally more accessible.  This is covered in our new ‘It All Adds Up’ booklet soon to be available online and currently available in hard copy from our Information and Advice Team.  What’s more, having an accessible community benefits everyone; good communication is good communication, having a GP surgery that has an uncluttered waiting room has a positive impact on all, and community groups held in a venue that is accessible disadvantages no-one.

So how about it, shall we make small changes to make a big difference?  What could you do to help grow an accessible community?  I don’t know about you but I want to see a society where sensory loss doesn’t have to be a barrier, or a reason to stop enjoying or participating in life – and where it doesn’t matter what age you are, there are always things that can be done and it’s always worth it.

Author: Sarah White

Sarah White is the Head of Public Policy and Campaigns at Sense.

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