BodyExpertsRuby : Adulthood

Embracing the Secrets of Aging Senses. Nurturing Our Human Senses for a Vibrant Life as We Age.

How our senses age, and learn effective strategies for adapting to sensory changes as we age to live a whole and vibrant life.

Our senses allow us a connection with the outside world, enriching our existence with knowledge and emotion. However, aging influences these vital senses as we progress through life. You may even be using reading glasses right now, recognizing that our ability to see distinct changes as we age. This article will discuss how human aging senses change with age and what you must do to maintain your senses as you age and even embrace them.

The Human Senses

Seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling are the five most prominent senses that a human being may use. Each sense is essential to our ability to function in the environment and to have meaningful experiences. senses

The Science of Aging Senses.

Yes, that true that our senses and cognitive abilities decline as we become older. The transformation of our sensory experiences is less-discussed than the physical changes accompanying aging. Sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch all contribute to our understanding of the world.

The central nervous system then transmits these nerve impulses to the brain, where they are processed. And for the brain to register a sensation, it has to be stimulated a certain amount. The sensory threshold‘ describes this minimal degree. Our sensory points rise as we age, requiring more stimulus before registering a change. While these changes can vary from person to person, there are common scientific explanations for the shifts in our sensory experiences as we age. They are usually a  result of reduced cell renewal and modifications to brain circuits. Illness and diseases can also affect the senses, particularly those that become more prevalent as people age.

It has been found in a 2016 study that more than 90% of elderly people have at least one deficit in one of the five basic senses, and more than two-thirds have two or more deficits.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, discovered significant associations between age, gender, and race in several age-related changes in the senses, with 94% of older citizens in the United States having at least one sensory deficit. In comparison, 38% have two, and 28% have three, four, or five. Moreover, some mental abilities genuinely improve with age.

In the absence of disease, for instance, the brain of an elderly individual possesses a more extensive vocabulary and polished language skills. The “hallmarks of aging” are a collection of interrelated biological processes and systems that all play a role in aging, including changes in our senses as we age. These hallmarks lead to aging and can affect our sensory perceptions. As these processes accumulate, sensory cells, brain circuits, and sensory function may change.

Preserving a lively and whole life as we age is crucial to accepting these changes and caring for our aging senses.

Changes in Vision

The eyes are subjected to the most severe tests of time, and seeing in low light becomes more challenging with aging. The shape of the eye lens changes, and the pupils may shrink to one-third the size of when you were 20 years old by the time you’re 60. The sharpness of visual acuity declines.

As you age, the vitreous, a gel-like material within the eye, begins to atrophy and thinner. This might cause specks or floaters to appear in your line of sight. Floaters often do not impair visual acuity.

The lens of your eyes also becomes less flexible. Presbyopia, one of the most well-known age-related changes, typically begins around age 40 and causes blurriness of the vision and makes it more challenging to focus on nearby objects. Recognition of items or the ability to focus on things at varying distances takes longer for older people. That’s why you need those reading glasses. In addition to changing transparency and density, the lenses gradually yellow and become more rigid.

Cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal conditions, including age-related macular degeneration, the primary cause of visual loss in those over 50, disproportionately afflict the elderly. To have a deeper level of information about these conditions, let’s read the article about age-related eye changes in humans. In summary, normal age-related changes to vision include:

  • Decrease in sharpness of vision (visual acuity)
  • Decrease in the ability to focus on objects at different distances
  • Decrease in the ability to distinguish between specific colors
  • Decrease in the ability to function in low light levels and adapt to darkness
  • Decrease in the ability to adjust to glare
  • Decrease in the ability to judge distance

Nearly everyone over 55 requires corrective lenses, at least at times. Several studies have linked impaired vision in the elderly to cognitive decline. (1)(2) It is unclear why, but logic suggests that deteriorating reading vision and hand-eye coordination would hinder the ability to perform brain-strengthening exercises.

Age-Related Hearing Loss

Hearing clarity naturally diminishes with age, and the aging process alters the structures of the ear. It typically goes unnoticed until the 50s and 60s, when the inability to hear high-pitched noises becomes noticeable. Consonants like s, z, t, f, and g are high-frequency sounds that can be difficult to hear. The vowels a, e, I, o, and u are more audible with their lower pitches. A recent 2023 study suggests that one-third of those between 65 and 74 suffer hearing loss.

Presbycusis is a common form of hearing loss in older adults and is characterized by a steady decline in a person’s ability to hear sounds. It’s not uncommon for hearing loss to start in childhood and gradually worsen during one’s twenties, thirties, and forties. Another prevalent condition among the elderly is tinnitus, or a constant, unnatural ringing in the ears. Tinnitus might be caused by mild hearing loss, ear wax accumulation, or even medication adverse effects.

The elderly can have trouble hearing things clearly and keeping their equilibrium when sitting, standing, and walking, as the ear plays the function of both balance and hearing. Wax buildup in the ear canal, which often occurs with advancing age, can also impair hearing.

Central nervous loss of hearing is one type of hearing loss that can be caused by aging (others occur due to blockage by wax, a foreign object of infection). In addition to hearing impairment, many individuals experience tinnitus, a periodic pounding or buzzing sound.

Incidences of presbycusis and tinnitus increase with age, and males have a higher prevalence of both conditions worldwide. Unfortunately, these alterations can result in adverse health consequences such as social isolation, cognitive decline, and depression.

Touch and Pain with Age

Your brain processes the variety and intensity of touch sensations. It classifies the experience as pleasant (like a nice warmth), unpleasant (like extreme heat), or neutral (like being aware that you are touching something).

Decreased blood supply to the spinal cord or brain can induce these changes. The brain receives nerve messages from the spinal cord and processes them.
It has been found that it may be more challenging to perceive pain, distinguish between temperatures, or locate one’s body in space. This becomes more evident around the 60s and lowly declines as the person ages. The loss of sensation in one’s feet due to diabetes-related nerve degeneration is only one example of how these difficulties might be exacerbated.

However, there is no age-related decline in people’s sensitivity to tactile differences like roughness/smoothness or hardness/softness.

70% of U.S. seniors with poor or merely fair touch sensitivity were observed in a research conducted in 2016.

Physiological issues like nutrient deficiency can alter the sense of touch, while brain surgery, disorders, disorientation, nerve damage from injuries, or chronic diseases like diabetes can cause changes in sensations.

Age-Related Changes in Taste and Smellhearing loss senses

Our gustation, or sense of flavor, appears to age well. Chewing food releases molecules that stimulate taste receptors on the tongue, the palate, and the lining of the mouth. These cells send messages to the brain, which identifies specific flavors. But as we age, we inevitably lose part of our sense of taste around 50. Nonetheless, nearly everyone retains the ability to recognize the distinctive characteristics of meals that are primarily sweet, sour, bitter, or salty. Other circumstances include,

  • The sense of taste can be affected by several drugs.
  • Aging can also cause a decrease in saliva production in the mouth, which can negatively impact the taste.
  • Similar to smell, smoking can also affect the sense of taste.
  • Rather than the whole mouth being unable to taste, having problems in just one area is much more typical.

Often, what people attribute to a problem with their sense of taste is an issue with their sense of smell, also known as prebyiosmia. After age 50, the nerves responsible for smell weaken, and one’s sense of smell gradually declines. Almost one-quarter of men in their 60s have a disorder of the sense of smell, whereas only one-tenth of women do. Since the nose produces less mucus, scents are not always preserved in the nose for nerve endings to pick them up. Anosmia, or the complete inability to smell, is highly unusual.

Other conditions that can cause the sense of smell to diminish are,

  • Colds, persistent sinusitis, or allergies can temporarily decrease smell sense.
  • Medication, including antibiotics, can also decrease the smell.
  • Nasal tumors, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, and age-related loss of taste buds can also cause a smell sensation loss.
  • Smoking can also contribute to this decline.

Similar to how a cold can temporarily decrease your sense of smell, it can also reduce your sense of taste.

Memory

According to studies, physical activity enhances the memory of the elderly with moderate cognitive impairment. Intriguingly, aerobic exercise appeared marginally superior for verbal memory, while resistance training appeared marginally exceptional for associative memory — the capacity to remember things in context. One factor may be the secretion of the protein cathepsin B by exercising muscles. At least in rats, this protein builds cells in the hippocampus, an essential memory-related brain region.

Not everyone goes through sensory changes at the same age or to the same degree, and not all changes happen at the same age.

Aging Gracefully Through the Years

Maintaining the Hearing Through Years

Even if you’re experiencing hearing loss due to aging, there are ways to improve your situation.

  • Eliminate any distracting background sounds. You could, for instance, mute the TV or turn down the music player.
  • Earplugs are another valuable tool for preventing hearing loss caused by loud noise.
  • Wax accumulation increases with age, so clearing the wax can significantly enhance hearing. But avoiding cleaning the middle ear is suggested as it can cause more damage than benefit.
  • Today’s hearing aids may be customized to each user’s unique hearing loss and environmental noise levels through a computer.
  • A cochlear implant might be possible if hearing aids are no longer helpful.

A diet of vitamins A and B can help maintain proper ear health. Vitamin B supports the neurological system, whereas vitamin A aids in maintaining healthy inner ear hair cells, which are critical for adequate hearing.

Improving Touch As You Age

As we age, our skin loses some of its sensitivity to pain, warmth, and pressure, so taking care of it is crucial. It’s essential to take extra precautions to prevent injury, especially from hot things or being pressed too hard.

Regular exercise can help preserve your sense of touch by increasing blood flow. If you have diabetes, it is essential to maintain your blood sugar levels within the prescribed range. This reduces your risk of experiencing severe nerve damage.

Keeping The Taste Buds Alive

While you can’t necessarily stop the natural decline of your sense of taste and smell, you can liven up your food to make it more appealing. Instead of sugar and salt, use organic herbs and seasonings to flavor your food. Temperature also has an effect. Both smoking and alcohol can impair your sense of taste. Numerous over-the-counter and prescription medications affect smell and taste as well. If you feel that the feelings of smell and taste are diminishing, consult your doctor to determine if there are medications with fewer adverse effects. Smell Most importantly, if your sense of smell has reduced, check the functionality of your smoke detectors. You may be unable to detect smoke as strongly.

Managing the Vision

Eating well is essential to staying at peak performance. A diet high in vegetables and fruits and low in fat and cholesterol has also been shown to protect eyesight studies. (1) (2) (3)

Some other essential vitamins and minerals for good eyesight are as follows:

Maintain Health According to the National Institute of Health, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and wearing protective eyewear like sunglasses and goggles have reduced the risk of long-term vision loss.

Light levels should be increased as people age. According to studies, a person 80 years of age will require around three times as much light as a young adult to read a book. Brighter lighting throughout the home and brighter lanterns for activities such as reading can help improve vision.

Also, consult your physician about regular eye exams to evaluate your health. This is one of the finest things you can do to safeguard your eyesight. Regular eye examinations help detect diseases in their earliest, most treatable stages. How often should one get an eye exam? Learn all about health and eye exams in our article here. Installing motion sensor lights is another option.

Caring for our senses may significantly improve our quality of life. Although aging causes a decline in sensory function, it can be mitigated by preventative care and sensory exercisesPreventiveve care, a healthy lifestyle, and sensory-enhancing activities may protect the unexpected enjoyment of seeing the world via one’s senses. Consult a geriatrician, a doctor who focuses on the unique healthcare needs of the elderly.

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Dr Aimen

Being a Doctor by profession, Aimen is passionate about helping people get better health in their lives. Aimen enjoys her research on Prime With Time subjects and strives to create better awareness of the problems and changes related to women's health.
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