Each of our senses can be affected as we age. So what can we do to protect them?
Cataracts: Getting older is the most common risk factor for cataracts according to the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind). However, it is possible to reduce the level of some of the other risks, including diabetes, trauma and obesity, while lifestyle choices that are associated with cataract development have the potential to be modified. In particular,
- Giving up smoking
- Avoiding lifelong exposure to sunlight
- Eating a healthy diet, with plenty of antioxidant vitamins.
Glaucoma:According to a 2021 review of published studies, a healthy diet and exercise may reduce the risk of glaucoma by reducing pressure within the eyeball.
Macular degeneration: Factors that prevent age related macular degeneration include:
- A healthy diet which includes lutein and zeaxanthin (substances that give various foods their yellow or orange colour). In addition, omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish; zinc present in red meat, beans, nuts, and Vitamin D.
- Stopping smoking
- Maintaining a normal body weight
- Managing systemic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Hearing loss can make us feel isolated. It is also a threat to safety if, for example, we can no longer hear a smoke alarm. But there are actions we can take to delay or offset this loss:
- We can help minimize hearing loss by reducing our exposure to loud noises
- Maintaining a healthy diet, according to a study published in 2021.
- Stopping smoking also helps, particularly for people with diabetes.
- Avoiding potential damage to the middle ear by not cleaning inside your ear with a cotton bud
- Use hearing aids to avoid feeling out of touch.
Taste and Smell
As we get older, we lose some of our sense of smell, likely due to a decrease in olfactory neurones and reduced production of mucous. The number of taste buds also decreases and they become less sensitive to stimulation. This loss of sense of taste and smell can lead to poor nutrition which can adversely affect health.
To protect our sense of taste and smell it can help to:
- Stop smoking. A 2018 systematic review suggested that smoking may affect taste and smell, but the evidence was limited to four small studies.
- Ensure good dental hygiene (brushing and flossing teeth).
- Eat food containing essential vitamins and minerals such as zinc, found in oysters, meat and baked beans.
We need to protect our skin as we age as it become less sensitive to pain, temperature, and pressure due to a loss of touch receptors. Extra care needs to be taken to avoid injury such as burns from hot objects and bruising from applied pressure.
However, light touch such as massage can be beneficial for our wellbeing, as well as having a calming effect and boosting our immune system.
There are some general recommendations you can follow to help protect all your senses:
- Follow a healthy lifestyle – avoid smoking, take regular exercise and eat a healthy diet.
- Ensure a healthy environment – wear sunglasses when needed and limit exposure to very loud noise.
- Ensure good dental hygiene.
- Take care to avoid injury to the skin (burns, bruising etc.)
- Be alert to any marked or sudden change in your senses and seek medical advice promptly.
Reviewed and updated by Barbara Baker, December 2021. Next review date, November 2025.