What happens when we lose our senses?
Most of us have five functioning senses which are hearing, vision, touch, smell and taste. Our senses tend to change as we age for various reasons for instance:
- You may experience vision difficulties such as astigmatism or near- sightedness because the lens of your eye is curved irregularly.
- Some people can cause damage to their ears through many years of being exposed to noise at work. This is especially true for people who work among a lot of loud noise such as live music performances, mining, building or farming. This ongoing exposure to loud noises may result in hearing impairment.
- Illness or injury may affect your sense of touch for example peripheral neuropathy or acute sensory loss.
- Some medications can temporarily or permanently impair your ability to taste or smell. Even lifestyle factors like smoking can also affect your sense of taste and smell.
Foreseeable changes to our senses
Ageing can often bring changes to our senses making them less sharp, which can in turn affect the supply of information to our brain. This means that we are not as easily able to respond to what is going on around us as we once were.
Caring for a loved one means that you will also need to be aware of how their senses may have changed with age and why it is important to take note of those changes.
This blog will give you some general reasons on why it is important to take note of sensory changes. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we discuss each sense in turn and how you can accommodate changes in each of those senses.
Behaviour associated by hearing loss can be incorrectly attributed to diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. People who have hearing loss may answer questions inappropriately or fail to follow conversations. This kind of confusion is typical in the early onset of dementia; however it is important to understand the source of the confusion before making a diagnosis of dementia. A good place to start is an audiologist to ensure that the hearing is working properly.
Loss of Smell and Taste
Loss of smell and taste may affect your loved one’s desire to eat. If the loved one that you are caring for is refusing to eat their favourite foods, it is possible that it doesn’t taste pleasant to them. Sometimes the food may be too bland or too spicy, or even that they no longer smell or taste the same. As we age, our bodies are not able to store and process vitamins and minerals as easily, so it is important that we make food which smells and tastes delicious so that our loved one can enjoy food while fuelling their body.
Vision or Touch
Sense of touch can be damaged by stroke or other medical conditions, such as diabetic neuropathy. Your loved one may not be able to feel their foot when contacting with the ground. With little or no sense to guide your loved one when contacting the ground, it can become a cause for concern for falls and or other injuries.
When vision has been affected by changes, the falls risk can be quite high particularly in unfamiliar environments. Elderly people with declining visual perception may also accidently leave appliances on if they can no longer see the on/off switch, and it can affect their ability to drive.
If you recognise that a certain amount of sensory loss in your loved one that is a normal part of ageing, you can be there eyes and ears for further warning signs. You can help your loved ones to cope with these sensory changes by:
- Learning all you can about your loved one’s sensory loss.
- Reducing noise – sensory overload.
- Making sure you loved one is under the right care and right specialist
- Taking steps to ensure your loved one’s safety.
- Driving is a big issue when a loved one has sensory impairment. It can be a difficult conversation, but this might be the time to investigate alternative transportation.
- Learning how to interact with your loved ones “new normal”
- If your loved one has vision loss or impairment, it’ important to remove fall hazards in the home and improve lighting. Talk to a specialist about the right kind of lighting — more isn’t necessarily better.
- Helping your loved one to remain active and socially engaged.
- Venues that have hearing loops and other supportive technologies for people with hearing loss.
- Encouraging your loved to attend an adaptive exercise class and a support group for people with similar challenges.
For more information on how to adapt to sensory loss for your loved one, call 07 3314 2575 and stay tuned in the coming weeks for more blogs about each of these senses.