New Research: The Importance of Supporting the Well-Being of Adults with Sensory Loss and Their Spouses in Rehabilitation

Disability and Rehabilitation journal cover

Many websites, including VisionAware, emphasize the importance of emotional support and coping strategies when dealing with adult-onset vision loss and combined vision and hearing loss.

Some of these strategies include joining peer support groups; reading books about blindness and vision loss; reading personal stories of people who have adjusted to vision loss; and encouraging family and friends to participate in the adjustment process.

A number of research studies also emphasize the importance of emotional support: The American Academy of Ophthalmology stresses that eye doctors must learn to pay closer attention to depression in their patients with vision loss and a recent study from the United Kingdom revealed that 89% of patients who showed anxiety and 91% who showed depression were not receiving appropriate emotional and psychological treatment.

Now, new research from Denmark and Canada has added to this growing body of knowledge by emphasizing the role of the spouse, partner, or significant other in the adjustment process to sensory loss, which includes vision loss, hearing loss, and combined vision and hearing loss.

According to the authors, “the results highlight the need to support the well-being of adults with sensory loss and their spouses in rehabilitation, and the importance of both intrapersonal coping (our own internal thoughts and feelings) and interpersonal coping (relationships and actions that take place between two or more people) in the adjustment process.”

From the Journal Disability and Rehabilitation

This new research, titled Intra- and interpersonal effects of coping on the psychological well-being of adults with sensory loss and their spouses, has been published online in the November 30, 2017 edition of Disability and Rehabilitation, an international journal that “seeks to encourage a better understanding of all aspects of disability and to promote rehabilitation science, practice and policy aspects of the rehabilitation process.

The authors are Christine M. Lehane, Jesper Dammeyer and Walter Wittich, from the Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and the School of Optometry, University of Montreal, Canada.

Related Research by the Authors

This new research builds on previous work from the research team, including Couples’ Experience of Sensory Loss: A Research and Rehabilitation Imperative, which revealed the following:

Acquired sensory loss of one family member can have a significant impact on the well-being of the entire family, especially the spouse. In the context of acquired sensory loss, the presence of a spouse or partner is an important support structure. When asked which areas individuals are most interested in receiving help with, one of the primary responses is managing relationships.

Considering that sensory loss has the potential to disrupt a couple’s communication and social life, it is reasonable to suggest that sensory loss is a shared experience. …For the purpose of research and rehabilitation, the individual with impairment, as well as the spouse, need to be considered in combination.

More About the New Disability and Rehabilitation Coping Research

Edited and excerpted from the study Abstract and Implications for Rehabilitation:

  • The aim of the current study was to examine the associations between coping and psychological well-being among adults with sensory loss and their spouses. A total of 183 adults with sensory loss and 133 spouses participated in an online survey and were followed up six months later.
  • 27.9% reported having a hearing loss, 32.2% reported vision loss, and 39.9% reported some degree of both hearing and vision loss (dual-sensory loss).
  • Results showed that a significant portion of adults with sensory loss (32.4%) and spouses (23.8%) had poor well-being, and this remained stable over the six-month period.
  • The results highlight the need to support the well-being of adults with sensory loss and their spouses in rehabilitation, and the importance of both intra- and interpersonal coping in the adjustment process.
  • Rehabilitation specialists and social workers working with adults with sensory loss should, where possible, incorporate family members into support plans.
  • Rehabilitation specialists and social workers working in sensory rehabilitation should be mindful of how the coping styles of one partner can impact the well-being of their significant other.
  • Online and print information for spouses on how to cope with a partner’s sensory loss should be available and accessible for couples attending sensory rehabilitation clinics.

Important Study Highlights from the Research Project

Edited and excerpted from the full study:

  • [F]ew studies have examined how adults with sensory loss and their spouses cope or the impact of each partner’s coping styles on one another’s psychological well-being over time.
  • [W]hile current guidelines for the rehabilitation of adults with sensory loss typically acknowledge the benefit of integrating spouses into clients’ rehabilitation goal planning, they do not consider how the personal coping abilities of each partner may directly affect rehabilitation outcomes (e.g., well-being). This view can be problematic as it tends to ignore the dynamic, interactional nature of couples’ sensory loss experience.
  • Unlike many other physical disabilities, hearing and/or vision loss primarily impact communication and mobility that can reduce social participation and increase isolation and loneliness over time.
  • In fact, studies have shown that the medical severity of one’s hearing and/or vision loss tends not to be directly associated with psychological outcomes; instead, self-reported degree of loss and an individual’s perception of its impact on factors such as communication ability or perceived social support have been found to be linked to psychological well-being.
  • However, while coping styles may influence an individual’s decision to educate themselves on available rehabilitation options, coping strategies have not been found to be associated with actual entry into rehabilitation.
  • Interpersonal coping … involves the understanding that couples’ lives are interdependent and that one partner’s way of coping with the sensory loss is also likely to influence the well-being of their spouse.
  • Adults with sensory loss whose spouse reported higher levels of support seeking at [the beginning of the study] were more likely to report positive well-being at [the six-month follow-up]. Given that the aim of sensory rehabilitation programs is to enhance quality of life, this finding highlights the importance of including spouses in the support process.
  • In fact, because spouse support-seeking was also positively associated with the psychological well-being of spouses at time one, fully incorporating spouses into the rehabilitation process may not only enhance the well-being of adults with sensory loss but also that of their spouse. Maintaining spouses’ well-being should also be a priority for sensory loss rehabilitation, given that spouses are often referred to as an individual’s primary and most valuable resource.
  • First, given the … consistency of couples’ risk for poor well-being in the present study, rehabilitative or therapeutic interventions are needed. Ideally, such interventions should include spouses and recognize the potential intrapersonal and interpersonal effects of each partner’s coping on well-being.
  • Finally, considering the beneficial effects of spouse support-seeking, it may also be worthwhile for sensory rehabilitation centers to form counselor-moderated peer support groups (in-person or online).
  • Although further study is needed, the results of the current study suggest that couples living with sensory loss are in need of support and that coping styles and relational behaviors may be useful to target in psychosocial interventions. Future research is needed to understand, in more depth, the exact mechanisms through which each partner’s coping styles affect one another’s well-being over time.

More Information About Combined Vision and Hearing Loss