INTRODUCTION: Vision and hearing loss are prevalent disorders in older adults although their effects on communication are not well documented. METHOD: The purpose of this study was to investigate the perceptions of older adults with sensory loss and their communication partners with regard to their communication, situational difficulties and conversational needs. RESULTS: Questionnaire results revealed that the sensory loss group experienced a range of functional vision and hearing difficulties. Over two-thirds of subjects reported frequent conversational difficulty, particularly in background noise and group conversations. Most subjects used clarification requests (mainly non-specific clarification and repetition requests) to overcome misunderstandings. By contrast, the communication partners reported few communication difficulties and claimed that they proactively eliminated or controlled environmental, speaker and listener variables to optimize conversation. The most frequently reported strategy was repetition. CONCLUSION: The findings suggest that older adults with sensory loss experience communication disruptions, which in many instances are not resolved. To optimize communication efficacy in this population, a communication training programme for people with sensory loss and their communication partners is highly recommended.