Research Topic

Sensory impairment and its impact on the mental health of older adults

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Depression among persons aged 65 years and older is a major health problem. Visual, hearing and olfactory impairment are also common among older persons, and they often experience difficulty adjusting to their sensory loss. Non-correctable visual impairment typically results from the major age-related eye ...

Depression among persons aged 65 years and older is a major health problem. Visual, hearing and olfactory impairment are also common among older persons, and they often experience difficulty adjusting to their sensory loss. Non-correctable visual impairment typically results from the major age-related eye diseases (macular degeneration, cataract, and glaucoma). The negative impact of vision loss on functional ability and social activities has been found associated with a significantly higher risk of depression, beyond the risk associated with other common age-related disabilities. Several studies suggest that approximately one-third of older persons with visual impairment experience clinically significant depressive symptoms. Similarly, compared to persons without hearing loss, older persons with impaired hearing were found to have significantly more depressive symptoms, lower scores on self-efficacy, more feelings of loneliness, and a smaller social network. Further, older adults with olfactory loss experience limitations in relation to the enjoyment of food and drinks, socializing and intimate relationships that could negatively impact on their psychological wellbeing. The presence of sensory impairment either separately or in combination can also complicate or impact on the treatment of depression for these individuals. Nevertheless, past research has shown that the use of aids (such as hearing aids, low-vision optical devices, olfactory training or training in blindness skills) has been associated with improved mental health.

There exists, however, a paucity of data on the relationship between sensory impairment (particularly combined sensory loss) and mental health in older persons. Such longitudinal data could contribute to more accurate detection and help to promote more effective delivery of services to older individuals with sensory impairment who have an increased risk of poorer mental health outcomes. It could also lead to a greater awareness by professionals working with older persons with sensory impairment, of their increased risk of developing depressive symptoms and anxiety, and may encourage screening for these symptoms. Early diagnosis of these sensory impairments could assist in tailoring interventions to support affected older persons to attain or retain a high level of mental well-being.


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