The combined impact of dementia, age-related hearing, and vision impairment is to be investigated by a new multi-million European research consortium called SENSE-Cog, led by The University of Manchester.

Seven in ten Europeans over the age of 65 suffer from either sight or hearing problems and over two thirds suffer from depression or dementia. When combined together the cumulative impact of these dual or triple impairments is far greater than the individual conditions. The scale of combined sensory and cognitive problems is substantial but poorly understood.

The five year SENSE-Cog project, led by The University of Manchester, has been funded with €6.5m from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research program. The project aims to investigate the combined impact of all three issues and develop new tools that could improve quality of life and optimize health and social care budgets across Europe.

“In combination these problems have a much greater effect than each one individually,” said lead SENSE-Cog researcher Iracema Leroi, MD, an academic psychiatrist from The University of Manchester. “Imagine if you have dementia which affects your memory or interferes with your recognition of familiar people. When you add visual impairment or hearing loss to that, you can understand why those affected may experience even greater cognitive difficulty or even experience altered behavior such as agitation or hallucinations.”

The project seeks to define the scale of the challenges so that authorities across the European continent can allocate resources more optimally. At the same time, researchers will also develop online tests, guides, and multi-lingual training manuals to help medical professionals diagnose and treat the combined problems more effectively.

“The burden on caregivers – often family members – is also increased as they are required to do much more on a daily basis and we see a greater number of these suffering from burn-out,” said co-lead of the SENSE-Cog project Piers Dawes, MD, PhD. “Millions of people in the UK and wider EU are affected by this combination of problems and it’s only going to get more prevalent as the population ages. That’s why we have to understand the scale of the problem and then equip the public, caregivers, and healthcare workers with the tools they need to deal with it.”

Minority groups are particularly disadvantaged with respect to diagnosis and treatment of mental and sensory problems, so researchers will be seeking out people from these groups to participate in the research.

The program will also trial an intervention of at-home support for people with dual- and triple-impairments. This will be supported by specialist sensory therapists based at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and will focus around pragmatic solutions to support both the affected person and their carer.

Source: The University of Manchester

Image credits: University of Manchester; © Aurinko |