A person is deafblind if they have a combined sight and hearing impairment that causes difficulties with communication, access to information and mobility.

These difficulties can occur even when hearing loss and vision loss are mild because the two senses usually work together and one would usually help compensate for loss of the other.

For example, a person who is deafblind may have problems hearing what someone else is saying, as well as finding it difficult to read visual cues, such as facial expressions or body language.

This is why deafblindness (sometimes referred to as dual sensory loss) has a significant impact on a person's life, even if they're not totally blind or deaf.

Deafblindness most commonly affects older adults, although it can affect people of all ages, including children.

Read more about the symptoms of deafblindness.

What causes deafblindness?

There are many potential causes of deafblindness. It can either be present at birth (congenital) or develop later in life (acquired).

Four basic groups of people who experience deafblindness have been identified – those who:

  • are hearing and sight impaired from birth or early childhood
  • are blind from birth or early childhood and then later start to lose their hearing
  • are deaf from birth or early childhood and then later start to lose their vision
  • develop hearing and sight loss later in life 

Congenital deafblindness

Congenital deafblindness is often caused by genetic conditions, such as Down's syndrome or CHARGE syndrome (a rare condition that can affect various parts of the body including the ears, eyes, heart, nasal passages and genitals). 

Other possible causes of congenital deafblindness include: 

  • excessive drug or alcohol use during pregnancy
  • a viral infection during pregnancy, such as rubella (although rubella is now rare thanks to the childhood vaccination programme)
  • a premature or traumatic birth 

Acquired deafblindness

Acquired deafblindness can be the result of age, illness or injury. Most people with acquired deafblindness have been able to see or hear for most of their lives.

Some people are born without the ability to see or hear and then start to lose their other sense later in life. For example, someone born with a hearing impairment may develop a condition that affects their sight, such as glaucoma, when they're older.

Although someone with acquired deafblindness can often have a fairly good level of sight or hearing, the combined loss will still make day-to-day living difficult.

Read more about the causes of deafblindness.

Testing hearing and vision

It's very important for the sight and hearing of someone who is deafblind to be accurately assessed. This will ensure that they receive the appropriate level of care and support.

Read more about how hearing and sight are assessed.

Living with deafblindness

Deafblindness can be a challenging disability to live with. Each person will have a different level of hearing and sight loss, which means they'll have their own individual care needs.

In cases of congenital deafblindness, treatment may not be possible so care will aim to:

  • preserve any remaining sight or hearing the person has 
  • teach the person alternative or informal methods of communication, such as hand on hand signing or objects of reference 
  • help the person develop as much independence as possible – for example, by training them to use a long cane, a guide dog or a sighted guide 

In cases of acquired deafblindness, it may be possible to identify and treat the cause of the hearing and sight loss. Social care support and rehabilitation training may also help.

For example, cataracts (cloudy patches that develop in the lens of the eye) can sometimes be treated with cataract surgery, and mild or moderate hearing loss can often be improved with a hearing aid.

Read more about how deafblindness is treated.

© Crown Copyright 2009

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Find out more here.