Sensory deprivation and dementia

Sensory deprivation is people living usually without sight or hearing or with significant limitations to it.  However, it could also include taste, smell or feeling.  Those without the loss of taste or smell would generally believe that this is not such a loss to live with, however those living with the reality of never tasting something delicious, which makes all food boring, forever, would tell a different story.


For the purposes of this blog, however, I am going to discuss the issues relating to the loss of sight and/or hearing.


I have previously had a client, who was in a care home and would turn off his hearing aids, he was depressed about his illness and did not want to engage in the world around him.  However, he could turn them on again, if he wanted.  Or they might be turned on for him, he would then wait a little while and turn them off again!


Depression, from loss of senses, can slow down thought processing and the depression of feeling that it doesn’t matter whether you speak or not will lead to silence and a loss of social interaction.  This withdrawal and seemingly slow thinking can look like memory loss, which can them be mistaken for dementia.  Many of the symptoms appear alike, a reduction in speaking, a change from before, disinterest in many aspects of life, so part of the process of diagnosing dementia making sure that the cause is not something else.  Depression can be treated and people can make a full recovery, whilst there are some drugs available to treat some of the symptoms of dementia, there is nothing that will cure it, currently.


People with dementia and sensory deprivation have a doubly difficult time.  As the dementia progresses, they will increasingly struggle to understand their environment, made worse by not being able to see or hear or both what is happening.  And complete loss of both senses means that almost everything that happens to them is a surprise, as they cannot see or hear anything coming towards them, so everything is potentially frightening!  They are then living in a world that cannot be seen or heard and is scary and unexpected.  Hardly surprisingly they then respond in often an extreme manner, either becoming passive or defensive.  And being passive is really sad and difficult to look after, as although the carers can take care of the physical aspects of their health by washing, dressing and feeding them, they do not know if they have taken care of the psychological aspect of their health.  Although it is hard to care for someone who is being aggressive towards their carer, when their needs are met and they are happy and comforted, then they will seem calm and the carer will know the difference in doing a good job, but there is not such a strong indication in a passive person.


Having dementia can be challenging, being a carer for someone with dementia is also challenging and having an additional health problem makes a difficult situation worse.  So if you are a person with dementia or their carer, have compassion for yourself, if you know someone, have compassion for them.