A playground has gigantic sculptures of the five senses, including a nose (foreground) flanked by an ear (at left) and a hand (at right); an eyeball is in the distance.

Sensory changes

As you get older, it’s natural to notice changes in your body as well as in your senses. You may find yourself asking people to repeat things they say, or notice you need to wear your glasses more often. You may find your food choices alter, and flavours you once couldn’t get enough of don’t appeal to you as much anymore. Your sense of feeling may also change, and you might begin to require assistance during certain tasks such as climbing stairs or washing dishes.

Understanding these changes may help you respond to them more effortlessly.

Hearing

The ear has two main functions: to help you process sound and maintain your balance.

We are able to hear due to sound vibrations that cross the eardrum from the outer to the inner ear. These vibrations are then changed into nerve signals within the inner ear. These signals are then carried to the brain by the auditory nerve.

Balance is maintained by the fluid and small hairs in the inner ear; this stimulates the auditory nerve.

Age related hearing loss is called presbycusis. This is caused by a decline in function of the structures of the inner ear.

Some of the first symptoms of presbycusis can include:

  • difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds,
  • conversations with other people,
  • or loss of balance.

Some people also experience tinnitus, which sounds like a ringing in the ears.

NOTE: If you experience any symptoms of hearing loss, it’s important to make sure it has not been caused by too much earwax, as this can impede hearing. Earwax can be easily removed by a medical professional, so it’s worth making an appointment with your GP to have this checked out.                                                                

Do not ignore hearing problems. Untreated issues that may contribute to hearing loss could worsen and lead to deeper complications. If you have trouble hearing, there is plenty of help and support available. Possible treatments include hearing aids, cochlear implants, medicinal remedies and, in some cases, surgery.

For more on hearing loss, head over to Living with disability and health issues: hearing loss.

Sight

Vision is light being processed by your eye and interpreted by your brain.

As with hearing, all the structures of the eye are affected by ageing. It is common to start noticing these changes around the age of 45 or 50, but you can experience sight related changes at any time in your life.

Some examples of issues arising may be:

  • Loss of focus on objects at varying distances
  • Diminished sharpness of vision
  • Difficulty distinguishing between colours
  • Difficulty reading, particularly in low lighting
  • Sensitivity to glare
  • Decrease in ability to judge distances

NOTE: Sight can also be affected by diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetes. It is important, if you experience any noticeable changes in your sight, to book an appointment with your GP, who will be able to advise you further.  

If you are experiencing sight loss issues as a result of the ageing process, there are plenty of options available that can help to make life easier and more comfortable for you. Some simple solutions can include glasses, bifocals or contact lenses. It’s worth taking a trip to your local optician to see whether any of these options could work for you. You may also be eligible for free NHS sight tests and optical vouchers.

Making small adjustments to aspects of your day-to-day lifestyle may also be necessary, such as:

  • Avoiding driving at night
  • Using contrasting colours around your home, in order to distinguish objects more easily.
  • Increasing the font size on your computer, mobile phone or electronic reader.
  • Adding 3D markers to small and hard to read objects, such as preferred temperature levels on central heating dials, or timers on the microwave.

You may find that replacing standard light bulbs with a red light can be more effective in helping you see more easily in a room with little or no natural light.

There is plenty of support for varying degrees of sight loss. If you do notice any changes in your vision, book an appointment with your GP or optician, who will be qualified to advise you further.

For more on sight loss, head over to Living with disability and health issues: sight loss.

Taste and smell

Taste and smell are very closely connected. Did you know that more often than not, the reason why you enjoy the taste of something is because you like its smell?

As you age, your sense of smell gradually decreases, and you start to find that your preferences for certain tastes and flavours begin to change. It differs for everyone.

Although you may discover your tastes are changing, this doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy a delicious meal. You simply have to find new ways to keep things interesting! For example:

  • Play around with seasonings such as herbs and spices. Strong aromas such as cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla and nutmeg can add natural sweetness and spice. Ginger, mint, cumin and basil can spice things up as well. See what your personal palette prefers!
  • Pay attention to presentation. It's easier to enjoy food if it actually looks tasty, so taking more care to present meals in an attractive manner can really help to tantalise your taste buds—think of the phrase, “a feast for the eyes”.
  • Use different textures when cooking and alternate your bites to stimulate your palette as you eat your meal.

In addition:

  • Take care with oral hygiene (this can help to preserve your sense of taste).
  • Chew food thoroughly.
  • Make meals social occasions as often as possible, so food is not always the central focus.

Taste buds can also be affected by a number of other contributing factors, especially medications you're taking or medical treatments you're undergoing. Smoking or dentures can impact your sense of taste too.

It’s also important to remember that even if you become less interested in the tastes and flavours you once very much enjoyed, you must make sure to keep a balanced diet so your mind and body remain active and healthy.

You can find more information on following a healthy diet or try some of these Jewish recipes and explore new tastes and flavours.

NOTE: Take care to recognise that a change in your sense of smell could alter your ability to notice possible dangers around the home. To be safe, test smoke alarms to make sure they are working efficiently, and regularly check use by dates on food packaging to avoid eating anything that is no longer fresh.

Touch

Your sense of touch makes you aware of physical feelings such as pain, temperature, pressure, vibration and even body position. As you age, a decrease in blood flow to your nerve endings, spinal cord or brain could alter your sense of touch. As a result, you may not feel the intensity of high or low temperatures as quickly as you used to, or your pain threshold increases so that cuts, bruises or sores aren’t as obvious. Health issues like diabetes, stroke, arthritis or even vitamin deficiency can also numb your sense of touch.

If you have discovered a change in your sensation of touch, it’s important to take extra care to ensure you are living safely in your day-to-day environment. For example, it may become more difficult to notice if the water you have run for a bath is too hot, or if you have a fall, you may be less aware of a possible injury.

Helpful measures you can take to be more vigilant could include:

  1. Lowering water temperatures at home for bathing and washing up.
  2. Checking the weather temperature before you go out to make sure you are warm enough in winter or cool in summer. In addition, take care to cover your skin with light layers in hot weather in order to protect your skin from sun damage, and always wear a brimmed hat when out and about in the sun.
  3. Wear protective gloves when handling household cleaning products or tending to any plants.
  4. Always cover your feet with socks, shoes or slippers to keep them warm and protect them from injury.
  5. Make sure to change body positions regularly in order to relieve excess pressure. Think about moving every 20 to 30 minutes. And try using pressure-relieving mattress pads or seat cushions to protect your back or tailbone from the risk of pressure sores.
  6. Keep an eye out for unnoticed cuts, sores or bruises, and go for regular check-ups with your GP (to ensure you have not missed any medical symptoms that may be less obvious or visible to you).

If you are concerned about anything and would like a second opinion, seek advice from a local neighbour, friend or family member.

Although these adjustments can be a challenge, accepting them as part of the inevitable ageing process is the best way to come to terms with the change.

For more on physical disabilities, head over to Living with disability and health issues: physical disabilities.

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