Charity warns deafblind numbers in Wales ‘to explode’

The growth in deafblindness will largely be caused by the increasing number of older people Urgent action is needed to plan for the needs of deafblind people, says a charity, as research predicts numbers are to “explode” in Wales.

The number of people affected by both visual and hearing impairment is predicted to increase from around 18,850 now to almost 30,000 by 2030.

The number of deafblind people has been “substantially underestimated”, said deafblind charity Sense.

It is calling for immediate action to meet their future needs.

The growth in deafblindness will largely be caused by demographic change – the increasing number of older people.

Sense chief executive Richard Brook said: “The results of this research are startling.

“We are all living with a ticking timebomb as the number of deafblind individuals in Wales and the UK has been substantially underestimated and is set to rise dramatically over the next 20 years.”

The Sense report, based on research from the Centre for Disability Research, suggests those over 70 will be the most affected, with numbers expected to rise by 87%.

“Local authorities and health professionals need to play their part in identifying and supporting deafblind people,” he said.

“The difficulties of deafblindness in older people are often exacerbated by a lack of understanding about the issue within parts of the medical and local authority community.”

The charity is calling for action to be taken such as better identification of deafblind people.

It also wants planning and budgeting based on the increased future demand and the provision of “appropriate and accessible” social care services.

Impact of isolation

“Too often visual and hearing impairment is dismissed as ‘part of getting old’,” said Mr Brook.

“Many people do not regard themselves as having a disability even if their vision and hearing has reduced to such an extent that it severely limits their ability to communicate, access information and get about.”

The assembly government issued guidance in October 2008 on providing services for deafblind people.

It covered issues such as the training of staff, access to support workers, assessments and identifying deafblind people.

Sense said the “impact of isolation” that deafblind people faced was “magnified by the associated health conditions which affect this group of older people”.

Previous Sense research suggested deafblind older people were nearly four times more likely to suffer a stroke.