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Effects of Aging on Hearing, Vision and Other Senses

NJ Senior Health

What to expect when the senses go

One of the realities of aging is a progressive loss of the five senses.  Consider the following:

To see clearly, a 70-year-old eye needs three times more light than someone half that age. The first sign of a problem is usually trouble seeing at night. If this happens, you may have to stop driving after dark. The eye muscles used for focusing begin to lose some tone. You may have to start using reading glasses. Glaucoma and macular degeneration are the leading causes of blindness in the elderly. Both diseases can be treated to some degree. This is why it’s important to get regular eye exams beginning at age 40.

About one third of Americans over age 65 and half of those over 85 have some degree of hearing loss. Most hearing loss happens when tiny hairs in the ear that send signals to the brain are damaged. Loud noises, repeated ear infections and high fevers speed up this process. The first thing to go is usually the ability to hear high-pitched sounds. It may also be hard to follow a conversation when there is too much background noise. Another reason for hearing loss is the buildup of hard ear wax. As we age, we lose some of the sweat glands that keep ear wax soft. Hard ear wax may block some sound waves, making things sound muffled. Tinnitus – or “ringing in the ears” – occurs when damaged hairs in the ear send electrical signals to the brain that are interpreted as noise.

Taste and smell
Very often, we confuse taste with smell. About 80 percent of the problems that we think are related to taste really involve smell. Taste is our strongest sense. We are born with about 10,000 taste buds. After age 50, we start to lose some of them. When we are young, we can recognize five different tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory. As we age, the sweet taste may be a little stronger and the sour taste a little weaker. Your sense of smell helps you recognize flavors. About 30 percent of people aged 70 to 80 have problems with smell. This can be partial or total, or can involve perceiving smells differently. You may smell a foul odor when there is none. Strawberries may suddenly lose their flavor. This can sometimes lead to depression. In many cases, nothing can be done about the loss of smell and taste. Cigarette smoking or poor dental habits can add to the problem. Polyps in the nose can block aromas. Medication, head injury or illness can also be factors.

As skin ages, it becomes drier, thinner and less elastic. The nerves in your skin become less sensitive. Your sensitivity to temperature can also change. Health problems may also lead to changes in your sense of touch. These include poor circulation and nerve damage from diabetes.

Posted by: Frank Esposito, VP Expert Home Care.  New Jersey’s Expert Home Care provides professional, dependable home health care and companion care for NJ elderly, helping them with their daily living activities since 1984. Please call us toll free at 800-848-2336 when you have home care related questions or need assistance for a loved one. Get a Free Home Care Assessment (a $375 value!) when you mention this post.

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