See Hear

A strategic framework for meeting the needs of people with a sensory impairment in Scotland

4. Prevalence

Hearing loss

4.1. There are estimated to be around 850,000 people with hearing loss in Scotland, one in six of the population, and of those, 70% are over 70. It is projected that this figure will increase by 50% in the next 20 years. There can be delays of up to 10 years in people addressing their hearing loss, and evidence suggests that GPs do not refer 45% of people reporting hearing problems for any intervention, such as a referral for a hearing test or hearing aids. More than 500,000 people would benefit from hearing aids, or 10% of the population.[7]

4.2. There are around 3,600 young people with a hearing loss in Scotland and the national availability of Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS) at birth facilitates early intervention and support. It is estimated that 1.1 children per 1000 are born with permanent bilateral deafness and 0.6 children per 1000 are born with unilateral deafness.[8]

Sight loss

4.3. Significant sight loss affects over 180,000 people in Scotland, one in 30 of the population, and it is predicted that this figure will double by 2031. The vast majority are older people, with more than one in two people aged over 90 having a significant sight loss. Evidence suggests that over 50% of sight loss is due to preventable or treatable causes.[9] It has been shown that 78% of people living with sight loss have at least one other condition for which they receive medical care.[10]

Deafblindness/dual sensory loss

4.4. People who are deafblind have a severe degree of visual and hearing loss such that the combination of the two causes extreme difficulty in pursuit of educational, vocational, or social goals; communication; access to information and mobility. Some people are deafblind from birth, others may be born deaf or hard-of-hearing and become blind or visually impaired later in life, or the reverse may be the case.

4.5. Deafblind Scotland estimate that there are some 5,000 people who have significant hearing and sight loss, with most of those people being over 60 and having become dual sensory impaired as part of the ageing process.[11] There is, however, a notable number of people under 60 years of age who live with Usher Syndrome, a genetic or inherited condition that affects hearing, vision and balance.

4.6. People who are deafblind must somehow make sense of the world using the limited information available to them, and experience the most challenging difficulties in engaging with the world around them. Special arrangements must be made if they are to be meaningfully included in society.

4.7. A person with dual sensory loss has a degree of both hearing and sight loss but may not identify as being deafblind. They view their condition as age-related and employ a variety of coping strategies to deal with their dual sensory loss and require help with both of their impairments. To meet the needs of someone with a dual sensory loss, care and support needs to be tailored to address both their hearing and sight loss. Large percentages of the over-50s age group have a dual sensory loss. For example, a third of people living with sight loss who are over the age of 65 have a hearing impairment.

4.8. In summary, the above headline trends in relation to prevalence rates for sensory impairment reflect the demographic changes taking place across Scotland, with greater ethnic diversity and significantly more people living to an older age than has ever been the case before. This has a direct impact on prevalence rates given the increased incidence of sensory loss in some ethnic groups and older people.


Email: Alan Nicholson

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