Aging Changes in the Senses
Alternate Names : Age-Related Changes in the Senses
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. Details or subtle differences
a person once appreciated may go unnoticed. Sensory changes can have tremendous
impact on an individual. These changes may make it hard for a person to
communicate, enjoy certain activities, and interact with others. This can lead
to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Through the senses that pick up light, sound, and temperature, for example, a person
gains much information about the world. This information is changed into nerve
signals and carried to the person's brain. There, it is turned into a message that he or
she can understand. But the brain requires a minimal amount of stimulation
before it can recognize a sensation. As a person ages, the amount of stimulation required increases. Usually, the biggest changes occur in hearing and
The 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. With random testing, 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 provider. In some cases, the
earwax blockage can be removed. Otherwise, the provider 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.
The 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.
In addition, the black dot 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. 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
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
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
Losses in any of the senses should be discussed with a healthcare provider. 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.