Deaf People and Dementia
By H Dominic W Stiles, on 10 May 2013
By Mina Krishnan
Researchers from the Royal Association for Deaf People, the University of Manchester, City University (London) and UCL – including our own Professor Bencie Woll in the Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre – have conducted a research project on deaf BSL (British Sign Language) users living with dementia: their understanding of it, their ease of access to appropriate services and the impact of dementia on the deaf community. Following the government’s policy document, Living Well With Dementia: A National Dementia Strategy – which lays out recommendations for early diagnosis and greater access to relevant information, but doesn’t make clear how it will apply to deaf people – this project was set up by a team of researchers and funded by the Alzheimer’s Society.
You have probably noticed that dementia has been in the news a lot lately. Furthermore, connections between deafness and dementia have been indicated: for example, this recent news story, regarding recent research which suggests that deafness may in fact contribute to dementia. Then there’s the difficulty of diagnosis among deaf people due to various factors, from problems with communication when attempting initially to consult doctors or hospital staff (about any health matters), to the unsuitability for sign language users of the tests currently used to identify cognitive disorders.
The research done for the Deaf People With Dementia project is vital to all of us; according to the WHO, the leading cause of hearing loss in adults is age-related (presbycusis). Worldwide, this is believed to affect from one third to half of people over the age of 65 and more than half of those over 75; and this is expected to rise significantly during the next 20–30 years, especially in places like Europe and the U.S. where increasing life expectancy means an ageing population (WHO, 2011 – see link above). With dementia believed to affect about 800,000 people in the UK – as well as, according to issue 733 of Bulletin (the official magazine of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, to which the library has a subscription if you’d like to come in and have a look) an estimated 25 million people knowing a close friend or family member with dementia – it seems highly likely that almost everyone will be affected at some point, either directly or indirectly.
Interested in finding out more? You could try searching PubMed using terms such as deaf or deafness, hearing loss, presbycusis, dementia and so on. If you’re a UCL student or staff member, it’s best to go via the electronic library web-page; or if you’re not, visit us here in the library where you’ll have greater access to articles using on-campus computers. Of course, here in the library we’ll be happy to help you look for further information, too – just drop by during our opening hours or give us a call.