Sensory disabilities

Sensory disabilities refer to visual and hearing impairment.

Visual impairment (blind or partially sighted)

There are two main areas that are looked at when measuring a person’s vision:

  • Visual acuity: This is the central vision used to look at objects in detail, such as reading a book or watching television;
  • Visual field: This is the ability to see around the edge of your vision while looking straight ahead.

Hearing impairment (hard of hearing or deafness)

There are three main types of hearing loss:

  • Conductive hearing loss: Sounds are unable to pass from the outer ear to the inner ear, often as the result of a blockage such as earwaxglue ear or a build-up of fluid due to an ear infection, a perforated ear drum or a disorder of the hearing bones;
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: Sensitive hair cells either inside the cochlea or the auditory nerve are damaged, either naturally through ageing, or as a result of injury;
  • Mixed hearing loss: It is possible to get both types of hearing loss at the same time.

Dual sensory impairment

Dual sensory impairment is the combined loss of hearing and vision.


Evidence indicates that the prevalence of visual and hearing impairments increases with age. With an ageing population, this means there will be more people acquiring these conditions.

Most sensory impairments develop gradually and are often secondary to other disabilities.

The impact of sensory loss and other health determinants can dramatically increase risk and demand on health and social care services. 

People with sensory loss are at greater risk of social isolation.

It is estimated there are more than ten million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss.

There are around 360,000 people who are registered as visually impaired in England. As many as 2 million people in the UK may be living with some degree of visual impairment.

It is estimated that around 1 in 5 people over the age of 75-years-old have some degree of visual impairment.

Age-related macular degeneration leading cause of blindness in adults. Other significant causes of sight loss are glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.

For adults with sight loss there is a correlated loss of independence and an increased   risk of poverty.

Sensory disabilities is linked with the following JSNA topics:







Mental and behavioural disorders

Last updated: 2016-01-27 11:03:15
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1. What are the key issues?

The ageing population of Stockton-on-Tees will see an increase in people with sensory disabilities.

There are potentially service gaps and areas that are in need of development (review in progress)

Last updated: 06/11/12

2. What commissioning priorities are recommended?


Achieve the goals set out in “Our health, our care, our say”.


Provide more innovative and cost-effective ways of providing support and meeting the needs of people with sensory loss.


Involve people with sensory loss in the planning of future services to ensure services meet their needs.


Improve access to services and facilities for people with sensory loss.


Implement the recommendations of the efficiency, improvement and transformation review of all services.


Ensure services are providing quality and value for money.


Include services to cover areas such as how to adapt to sight loss or hearing loss, counselling and rehabilitation.


Increase public awareness of sensory loss issues, who is at risk and prevention of sensory loss particularly for high risk groups such as older people and BME communities through public health campaigns.


Incorporate eye health messages into other public health campaigns such as obesity and smoking cessation.


Consider how to make the links to the new public health indicator for eyes in the Public Health Outcomes Framework, "Improving outcomes and supporting transparency". 


Link into national eye health week to inform people of eye health issues and available services.

Last updated: 06/11/12

3. Who is at risk and why?

Visual impairment


The vast majority of people with sight loss are elderly. Visual impairment prevalence increases with age.

Socioeconomic status

People from deprived areas are less likely to seek eye health checks and therefore are at higher risk of undiagnosed eye conditions.


People from African/African-Caribbean populations are four times more likely to develop glaucoma and have higher risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). People from Asian populations are at higher risk of cataracts. Both groups are at higher risk of diabetic eye disease.


Smokers double their risk of developing AMD; they also tend to develop it earlier than non-smokers do. 

Smoking can make diabetes-related sight problems worse, and has been linked to the development of cataracts.

Obesity has been linked to several eye conditions including cataracts and AMD.  Obesity also has a strong link with diabetes and an exacerbation of sight deterioration in diabetic retinopathy.


An estimated 60% of stroke survivors have some sort of visual dysfunction following a stroke. The most common condition is some loss of visual field which occurs in 30% of all stroke survivors.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause retinal damage by constriction of the retinal blood vessels.

Diabetic retinopathy can lead to sight loss.

Dementia sufferers may have eye conditions such as cataracts or AMD; others will have a type of dementia that impairs their vision by affecting perception of depth, colour and detail. It is estimated that around 2.5% of people over the age of 75 will have dementia and significant sight loss.


Older people with sight loss are also almost three times more likely to experience depression than people with good vision. 

Stress from living with visual impairment places a strain on relationships, as people become less able to live independently and are compelled to rely on family and friends to meet their needs.

Learning disabilities

Adults with learning disabilities are ten times more likely to be visually impaired than the general population. In the past people with learning disabilities have been less likely to have eye examinations.


People with visual loss are 1.7 times more likely to have a fall and 1.9 times more likely to have multiple falls.

Of the total cost of treating all accidental falls in the UK, 21% was spent on the population with visual impairment.

Hearing impairment


The vast majority of people with hearing loss are elderly. Prevalence increases with age. It is estimated that there are 3.7m aged between 16 and 64-years-old with a hearing loss and 6.4m aged 65-years-old and above.

Babies will be at risk of failing to develop language skills and of low educational attainment if their hearing impairment goes undetected.


It is believed that prevalence of hearing impairment is higher in BME communities, particularly in more recent immigrants from countries with low levels of immunisation against conditions such as rubella.


People receiving ototoxic drugs are at greater risk of a hearing impairment.

People with hearing loss may also have other additional disabilities or long-term health conditions that limit their daily activities such as arthritis and mobility problems. This often means that barriers to inclusion and feelings of isolation are worsened.


People regularly subjected to loud noise are at greater risk of a hearing impairment.


Direct head trauma can cause hearing loss.

People with hearing loss are also highly likely to have problems such as tinnitus and balance disorders which contribute as risk factors for falls and other accidental injuries.

Those who become suddenly deafened through trauma or infection are likely to experience acute emotional distress and find it difficult to cope.

Last updated: 06/11/12

4. What is the level of need in the population?

The current level of service uptake is identified in the 2010/11 RAP and updated figures to 29 February 2012.

RAP data to show number of people with sensory loss receiving services, Stockton–on–Tees, 2010/11, April 2011 to February 2012.


Client Group


Age 18 – 64



Age 65 & over




Age 18 – 64



Age 65 & over




Visually Impaired







Hearing Impaired







Dual Sensory Loss













Last updated: 06/11/12

5. What services are currently provided?


Newborn Hearing Screening Programme (NHSP)

The Newborn Hearing Screening Programme (NHSP) aims to identify moderate, severe and profound hearing impairment in newborn babies. The programme automatically offers all parents the opportunity to have their baby's hearing tested shortly after birth.

National Deaf Children's Society 

The National Deaf Children's Society  is a telephone helpline for children with a hearing impairment.

Jobcentre Plus

Jobcentre Plus offers a service for disabled workers by putting them in touch with a disability employment advisor (DEA). A DEA will help clients to find work or to gain new skills for a job. They can help with work preparation, advocacy, recruitment, and even confidence building. DEAs offer an employment assessment to find out what types of work would suit the individual best.

Staying Put

The Staying Put Agency assists older, vulnerable and disabled people to remain independent and in their home by offering a range of financial and practical support services including disabled facilities grants, equipment repairs and minor adaptations.


North Tees and Hartlepool Audiology

The North Tees & Hartlepool Audiology department provides a complete diagnostic and hearing aid rehabilitation service making special provision for deaf and hearing impaired patients and offering guidance and support to patients and their families.

South Tees ENT and Audiology

The South Tees ENT and Audiology department provide the regional cochlear implant service as well as NHS treatment for patients with more complex hearing disorders.

Peripatetic services

The peripatetic service based in Middlesbrough is for teachers of the deaf who provide support for children and young people throughout their education. 

Teesside Society for the Blind

Teesside Society for the Blind is contracted to provide a visiting service for people with visual impairments. The visitors are volunteers who assist people with a range of tasks such as reading of mail, writing letters, escorting to appointments, shopping trips or social engagements.


Sensory Support Team

The Sensory Support Team offers advice and information to clients with a sensory loss. Support and guidance are provided by specialist social workers and include:

  • assessment of needs;
  • equipment/adaptations to assist daily living;
  • signposting to local support groups;
  • registration of impairment, where appropriate;

Mobility/Rehabilitation Officers

Specialist Mobility/Rehabilitation Officers provide advice and training in independent living skills, communication and orientation and mobility to enable people to be as independent as possible.

Independence Plus

The Independence Plus course provides information and support to clients who are experiencing difficulties due to significant failing sight, or who have recently been registered as partially sighted or blind.

Self-directed support

The Self-directed support system empowers people to take control and shape their own lives by identifying their own needs and organising their own support to meet those needs in a way that makes sense to them.

Stockton Independent Living Centre (SILC)

The SILC is an equipment demonstration centre based in Hardwick, where people can try equipment before purchase.

The SILC holds a stroke clinic to support victims of strokes and their carers.

Telecare Services

Telecare uses a series of sensors to monitor for potentially dangerous situations such as floods, fire, gas leaks, falls, and intruders.

Home Improvement Agency

The Home Improvement Agencies (HIA) are not-for-profit, local organisations that assist and support elderly, disabled and vulnerable people to live independently in their own homes. They achieve this by providing practical solutions to housing-related problems, mainly by helping vulnerable clients repair, maintain or adapt their homes.

Home Care Service

To help people to maintain their independence in their own familiar surroundings at home.

Blind Voice UK

Blind Voice UK identifies situations where access for blind and visually impaired people was considered to be inadequate in Stockton-on-Tees.

Personal Budgets

The provision of personal budgets allows individuals to purchase services to meet their needs in innovative ways.

Last updated: 06/11/12

6. What is the projected level of need?

Visual impairment

The chart below estimates the people aged over 65-years-old predicted to have a moderate or severe visual impairment.

Predicted number of people with moderate or severe visual impairment aged 65+


















Hearing impairment

The chart below estimates the people aged 18 to 64-years-old predicted to have a moderate or severe hearing impairment.

Predicted number of people with moderate or severe hearing impairment aged 18-64


















The chart below estimates the people aged over 65-years-old predicted to have a moderate or severe hearing impairment.

Predicted number of people with moderate or severe hearing impairment aged 65+


















The chart below estimates the people aged over 65-years-old predicted to have a profound hearing impairment.

Predicted number of people with profound hearing impairment aged 65+


















Last updated: 19/08/15

7. What needs might be unmet?

The support that is needed to maximise independence is not provided.

The re-ablement services currently focus on physical disabilities. This service is not provided to people with sensory loss.

There are insufficient screening and preventative measures.

There is insufficient/ineffective support to help people take part in community life.

Mental health issues are not identified at an early stage.

There is a lack of awareness about prevention of sensory loss particularly amongst high risk groups.

The service uptake amongst specific ethnics groups who are at high risk needs to be improved.

People with dual sensory loss are not able to access the support they need.

There is not enough regular screening services for socially excluded groups.

Last updated: 06/11/12

8. What evidence is there for effective intervention?

Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People (Jan 2005)

A cross-government policy. The vision is for disabled people in Britain to be respected as members of society by 2025. 

Our Health, Our Care, Our Say

White paper, the Government’s Vision for Health and Social care services is underpinned by achieving four main goals:

  • Better prevention and early intervention for improved health, independence and well-being;
  • More choice and a stronger voice for local individuals and communities;
  • Tackling inequalities and access to services;
  • More support for people with long-term needs.

Independence, Well-being and Choice (DH 2005)

This offers a vision for the future of social care for adults in England. Person centred, proactive and seamless services are promoted so that people who use social care services will have more control, more choice, and the chance to do things that other people take for granted.

UK Vision Strategy

The strategy aims to:

  • Improve the eye health of the people of the UK;
  • Eliminate avoidable sight loss and deliver excellent support to those with a visual impairment;
  • Enhance the inclusion, participation and independence of blind and partially sighted people.
Last updated: 06/11/12

9. What do people say?

No content available at present.

Last updated: 06/11/12

10. What additional needs assessment is required?

Increased service user feedback to enhance commissioning needs assessments. Feedback should provide good quality data about satisfaction levels and patterns of uptake to enhance the commissioning of effective services.

Assessment of current services in the promotion of social inclusion to identify areas where improvements are required.

It would be helpful to understand how many people could benefit from reablement services that do not already have the opportunity. There will be a need to identify required skills and offer support and training to staff delivering these specialist reablement services.

Reablement supports adults of all ages. It is usually focused on people leaving hospital but it can also be offered to people referred from the community.  GPs have a major role to play in identifying people who could benefit from reablement services and further work could be undertaken by commissioners to seek support from GPs for reablement services. 

The commissioning function should also review the cost benefits of offering reablement services to see whether improvements in health and social care-related quality of life lead to a reduction in support. This could lead to identifying what influences the effectiveness of reablement, focusing on how to improve quality and reduce costs.

Last updated: 06/11/12

Key Contacts


Topic lead

Name: Liz Hanley

Job Title: Adult Services Lead




Topic author

Name: Sarah Allen

Job Title: Commissioning Manager