What is Deafblindness?

Deafblindness is a visual and hearing impairment. These impairments can be of any type or degree and are sometimes called multi-sensory impairments (MSI). There are many different causes of MSI. Most people who are multi-sensory impaired have some useful vision and/or hearing.

When someone is born with combined sight and hearing difficulties this is called congenital deafblindness. Examples of this include conditions such as Rubella or CHARGE.

If they develop these problems later in life, this is called acquired deafblindness. This may be due to an accident, illness or as a result of ageing in later life.

In some cases, people may be born with a genetic condition such as Usher syndrome, which may mean that they progressively lose their sight and hearing.

Deafblindness in Guatemala

Guatemala has unique geographic conditions that result in an increased incidence of Deafblindness.

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Types of Deafblindness

Usher Syndrome

Usher syndrome, which is genetic, is a leading cause of deafblindness. The major symptoms of Usher syndrome are hearing loss and an eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa. In User syndrome, the retina progressively degenerates, which results in night-blindness and a loss of peripheral vision. As the retina continues to degenerate, the field of vision narrows until only central vision (the ability to see straight ahead) remains. Many people with Usher syndrome also have severe balance problems.

CHARGE Syndrome

CHARGE syndrome is a recognizable genetic pattern of birth defects. It was first described in 1979, and in 1981, the term "CHARGE" came into use as an acronym for this pattern of unusual congenital features. The letters stand for: Coloboma of the eye, Heart defects, Atresia of the nasal choanae, Retardation of growth and/or development, Genital and/or urinary abnormalities, and Ear abnormalities and deafness. This pattern of features is no longer used to make a diagnosis of CHARGE syndrome, but the name remains in use.

Age-related Deafblindness

Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, occurs gradually in most people as they grow older. Almost one-third of people over 60 have some hearing loss. By the age of 75, about half of the population experiences hearing loss.

Hearing loss associated with aging is usually greater for high-pitched sounds such as "s" and "th" sounds and the ringing of a telephone. People with presbycusis who have trouble hearing high-pritched sounds may be able to hear clearly low-pitched sounds.

Generally, age-related hearing loss results from changes in the inner ear. Presbycusis also results from changes in the middle ear or from complex changes along the nerve pathways leading to the brain. This loss often occurs equally in both ears. Because presbycusis happens gradually, those affected may not realize that their hearing is diminishing.

Deafblindness Organizations

Links to other organizations supporting people with deafblindness:

Helen Keller National Center

Deafblindinfo Organization

A-Z to Deafblindness