As we all learned in kindergarten, we have just five senses through which we experience the world. Did you know that each of these senses decline as we age? Did you also know that there are ways you can help protect and prolong the health of all five of your senses? Read below for more information on how each sense weakens over time and what measures you can take to protect and strengthen them
Sense of Sight
For those of us over 40, we all know the struggle of wishing our arm was just a little bit longer in order to read that receipt or food label. The reason this happens is the crystal-clear lens becomes stiffer and the delicate muscles used to control it begin to weaken. On top of struggling to see up close, you may need more light for reading as well.
How to protect it: The most effective ways to keep your vision sharp is to get plenty of exercise and maintain a healthy diet. Exercise increases blood flow to the muscles in your eyes and helps them stay stronger, longer. A healthy diet can also greatly improve the health of your eye. It is thought that a diet rich in dark, leafy greens, antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids will help preserve your sharp vision. It is also important to get plenty of rest and work closely with your doctor to find the best strategy for you.
Sense of Taste
A decline in sense of taste is definitely not something we typically think about when pondering age-related health concerns, however, it is a very common issue. As we age, the cells within our taste buds regenerate at a slower rate than they did when we were younger – causing us to crave saltier and more sugary foods to bring out the flavor. For many of us, this leads us to eating unhealthy and processed foods high in sugar and sodium. Taste sensitivity can also be negatively impacted by some ailments such as upper respiratory tract infections, arthritis and diabetes.
How to protect it: Make sure to take care of treatable issues that may be affecting your ability to taste, such as high blood sugar or inflammatory bowel disease. If you are still feeling like your food tastes bland – try to improve the flavor in healthy ways. Cooking with strong flavors such as garlic, sharp cheese, or sun-dried tomatoes can help to intensify flavors. Another trick may be to add a sprinkle of sugar to sliced fruit or salt to vegetables to create the illusion of a stronger taste.
Sense of Touch
“About 30 percent of people in their 50s say their sense of touch isn’t what it used to be; another 30 percent say it’s downright poor” (https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2017/hearing-loss-senses-decline-age.html). As we get older, the touch sensors in our skin become weaker, and normal brain aging can cause us to experience touch less sensitively. Weaker sensors in our joints and muscles that are responsible for sending important messages to our brain regarding where we are in space, can make us feel clumsy or unsteady.
How to protect it: The best way to protect your sense of touch is to continue to move. Whatever activity you enjoy that keeps you moving – do more of it! Dancing, yoga, tennis or even playing golf can help keep our touch sensors sharp. Being generous with physical affection is also a good way to preserve our sense of touch – hugging those you love is good for your health!
Sense of Smell
High up in your nose, there is a patch or nerve endings about the size of a postage stamp that are responsible for processing smells. As we age, these nerve endings become weaker and decrease our ability to smell. Not only does this limit us in smelling the wonderful scents of life, but also can be dangerous. In a recent study, 20 percent of people over 70 could not smell smoke and another 31 percent were not able to recognize the smell of gas.
How to protect it: The best way to protect your sense of smell is to get plenty of exercise and control your alcohol intake. “Smell Training” is also a way to recoup and preserve your sense of smell. Spend a few minutes a day sniffing pleasant and familiar odors such as lemon or eucalyptus.
Sense of Hearing
Of course, our favorite sense is the sense of hearing – so we saved the best for last! Hearing loss is a persistent reality for many of us – and is a common effect of normal aging – often accelerated by noisy workplaces or leisure activities. One in three Americans over the age of 65 suffer from hearing loss. Untreated hearing loss can accelerate brain deterioration, and people with untreated hearing loss are three times more likely to develop dementia. Hearing loss can also lead to an increased risk for falls, depression and social isolation.
How to protect it: Avoiding noisy environments and wearing hearing protection are the best ways to slow hearing loss. It is important to use earplugs when participating in noisy activities such as sporting events, bars, or even mowing the lawn. It is also important to get your hearing assessed on a yearly basis and use hearing aids if recommended by your hearing aid specialist.