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Aging Changes In The Senses

Alternate Names

  • age-related changes in the senses

Definition

Certain changes in the 5 senses occur with age. The 5 senses are hearing, sight, taste, smell, and touch.

What is the information for this topic?

Each of the 5 senses may become less sharp with age. Hearing and vision loss are the most troublesome and can impact both quality and length of life. These changes may make it hard for a person to communicate, enjoy certain activities, and interact with others. These can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
In addition, vision and hearing loss can make normal activities of daily living unsafe without supervision or help. Unintentional falls, medicine overdose, and injuries due to fire are a few of the potential hazards that can result from vision and hearing loss.
HearingThe ears have 2 jobs: hearing and balance. As a person ages, certain parts of the ear lose some of their ability to function properly. This can make it harder to hear and maintain balance. Older people often cannot hear high-pitched sounds as well as younger people can. This is a part of normal age-related hearing loss.
Earwax becomes drier with age and is more likely to get impacted. Earwax blockage affects the individual's ability to hear. Hearing often grows less sharp around the age of 50 and declines further as a person gets older. Studies indicate that as many as 30% of people over age 65 may have significant hearing loss.
Some hearing loss can be prevented by wearing earplugs or protective headgear during loud activities. It is best to start doing this at a young age before hearing loss occurs. A person who notices hearing loss should discuss the problem with his or her healthcare professional.
In some cases, the earwax blockage can be removed. Otherwise, the professional can refer the person for an evaluation of hearing loss. Depending on the problem, options to improve hearing may include different types of hearing aids or surgery.
VisionThe second sense that can undergo major changes with age is sight, or vision. Aging affects the eyes in many ways. Since older eyes produce fewer tears, dry eyes can be a problem. This injures the covering on the front part of the eye, or cornea. The pupil, the black opening in the center of the eye, or pupil, loses its ability to open and shut easily to control the amount of light that is let in. As this happens, it gets harder to respond to bright light and darkness.
In addition, the lens, which helps focus images, becomes less flexible. This is why reading glasses may be needed to focus on objects that are close to the body. The eye cannot move as well as it did in younger days because its muscles lose their tone with age. Some nerve cells in the retina die off, making it harder to see fine details.
Certain diseases and conditions of the eye are more common with age and may cause vision loss. One example is cataract of the eye, a condition in which the lens of the eye thickens and becomes cloudy. Macular degeneration, a condition in which part of the retina is destroyed, is also associated with aging.

Taste and Smell

Both taste and smell can undergo changes during the aging process. These 2 senses are closely intertwined. Together, taste and smell help a person appreciate many foods. As a person tastes something, he or she also smells it. In fact, many smells also have a certain amount of taste. The sense of smell is also important for safety. It can help a person detect dangerous gases, smoke, or spoiled food.
Smell also brings pleasure to social and sexual interactions. There is no evidence that aging changes taste and smell. However, studies have found that the number of areas where taste can be detected, or taste buds, decreases with age. The remaining taste buds also lose some of the ability to taste. As a person ages, he or she produces less saliva, which may also affect taste.

Touch

Finally, the sense of touch involves the ability to feel vibration, pressure, temperature, and pain. Many studies report a decreased sense of touch with aging. It is hard to tell whether the changes are due to growing older or simply reflect changes resulting from certain illnesses in the elderly.
Regardless of the cause, many people notice changes in their sense of touch as they age. Anyone who thinks he or she might be experiencing such a change should be very careful around hot objects and in cold areas. This can help to prevent skin damage such as burns or frostbite.
Losses in any of the senses should be discussed with a healthcare professional. He or she will look for health-related causes or medications that might cause the problem. Treatment may be available to help compensate for the loss.

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