Our five senses give us details about the world around us. As we age, our senses diminish; likewise, the information we collect decreases. Understanding how these changes affect your parent’s lifestyle, health and safety will help you be a better caregiver.
Your tongue has about 9,000 taste buds that identify sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavors. As we grow older, the number of taste buds decrease, and the ones we do have begin to shrink. Around age 60, many seniors experience dry mouth due to decreased saliva production, which affects their ability to taste. Dentures also affect taste. Loss of taste leads to lack of appetite and poor nutrition.
Our sense of smell begins to diminish in our 50s. Decreased mucus production in the nose, sinusitis, medication and diseases related to nasal passageways all affect our sense of smell. Diminished smelling capacity alters your enjoyment of food and potentially your hygiene habits; it also means you can’t detect harmful odors such as smoke or carbon monoxide.
By age 60, your pupils are about one-third the size they were at age 20. Your response to bright light and darkness slows, your cornea is less sensitive, which means you might not detect eye injuries, and you can’t tolerate glare. Reduced side vision makes it harder to talk with people next to you; weak eye muscles prevent you from looking up, and your visual field gets smaller. Vision problems can lead to falls, lack of participation in activities and isolation.
Aging causes a breakdown in the structures and nerve endings in your ear; you no longer can pick up sounds, you have problems hearing when there’s background noise and you cannot differentiate between sounds. Your sense of balance might be thrown off when walking or standing. Hearing loss is a primary reason why seniors withdraw from friends and family and become isolated.
Skin changes and decreased circulation affect your sense of touch as you age. It’s harder to detect changes in temperature, and opening jars may be a challenge. Diminished sensitivity means seniors may not be aware of cuts, blisters or other injuries that need treatment.
As seniors try to cope with these sensory changes, they may find it’s easier to avoid socializing and other activities. By recognizing what’s happening, you can take steps to help them remain active and engaged.