Sensory impairment

Visual, hearing and olfactory impairment are common among older people and many have difficulty adjusting to their sensory loss.

The overlap between sensory, cognitive and mental ill-health is substantial and all three impacts significantly on each other. These are considered to be among the main contributory factors in reducing the quality of life for older adults and can also have a significant impact on the lives of carers. 

Dementia and cognitive impairment steadily rise in prevalence over the age of 65 to the point where almost one-third of Europeans at the age of 90 are affected.

We support research into sensory impairment in order to more fully understand the biological mechanisms behind sensory impairment, its links with cognitive and mental health, and how best to treat these interlinked phenomena.

The SENSE-Cog project

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, 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, aims to investigate this combined impact and develop new tools that could improve quality of life and optimise health and social care budgets across Europe.

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

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.

Project work packages

  • Exploration: Looking at the relationship between hearing, vision and cognitive functioning
  • Assessment: Develop and test new ways of assessing cognition and mental health
  • Intervention: Develop, test and trial ‘sensory support’ interventions
  • Valuation: Address health economic and cost-effectiveness issues
  • Participation, communication and dissemination: Giving participants, service users and carers the chance to contribute to the programme
  • Management: Ensure the programme meets milestones and deliverables

Principal Investigator

Dr Iracema Leroi, Institute of Brain, Behaviour and Mental Health, The University of Manchester

Manchester Co-investigators

  • Dr Piers Dawes, School of Psychological Science, The University of Manchester
  • Dr Brenda Gannon, formerly of the Institute of Population Health, The University of Manchester
  • Prof Chris Armitage, School of Psychological Science, The University of Manchester
  • Prof Neil Pendleton, Institute of Brain, Behaviour and Mental Health

Funder/funding period

European Commission Horizon 2020 research programme, January 2016 to December 2020

Collaborating universities

  • European University Cyprus
  • Manchester Metropolitan University
  • University of Athens
  • University of Nice Sophia Antipolis
  • University of Bordeaux
  • Erasmus MC: University Medical Centre Rotterdam
  • The Arctic University of Norway
  • Catholic University of Applied Sciences Freiburg
  • University of Cyprus
  • Nice University Hospital

Additional partners

  • Public Programmes, Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Dementia Pal Ltd
  • IXICO Technologies Ltd
  • Starkey Laboratories Inc.
  • HörTech gGmbH
  • Essilor International S.A.
  • GABO:mi