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August 24, 2017

How Your Senses Change as You Age & How to Protect Them

As we age, each of our five senses — sight, sound, smell, touch and taste — change. But, there are ways to protect them. At a high level, this involves practicing a healthy lifestyle, including eating a balanced diet, exercising and not smoking, and to protect yourself against environmental irritants, by wearing sunglasses in bright sunlight and limiting how much you are exposed to loud noises. A third strategy is to monitor your ability to see, hear, smell, taste and touch, and seek medical advice when any marked or sudden changes in ability occur.


Harvard Health Publications provides information about how your senses change as you age, noting that significant variability occurs among people. Sharpness of focus in sight, for example, tends to diminish with age. Some causes include cataracts and macular degeneration. Hearing loss also can occur, to the point where you must ask people to repeat themselves often. Taste and smell, meanwhile, become less sharp, in part because of reduced flow of saliva. By the time you’re in your 80s, your sense of smell is likely to be nearly 50 percent less effective than when you were younger.

How to Protect your Senses as You Age

What can you do to preserve your senses? Here are tips from AARP in an article that cites how tens of millions of older adults have sensory losses in at least one sense.

Protect Hearing

  • When around loud sounds, wear ear-protecting headphones or foam earplugs.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and manage your blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
  • Use hearing aids, if needed.
  • Find more information from AARP.

Protect Sight

  • Exercise regularly to maintain appropriate blood flow to your eyes.
  • Get enough sleep to keep your eyes lubricated and help remove irritants.
  • Consult with your eye doctor to keep your eyes moist enough. This helps to reduce blurry vision, making it easier to see to drive and read.
  • Ask your doctor if you’re a candidate for refractive surgery.

Protect Taste Buds

  • Some medical conditions can affect your ability to taste, so manage conditions such as high blood pressure, inflammatory bowel disease and infections.
  • Address dry mouth by switching from alcohol-based mouthwash, trying a mouth moisturizer and talking to your doctor about side effects from your medications.
  • Add more intense flavors to your foods, perhaps sharper cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, onion, garlic and flavored vinegars. You can add a pinch of sea salt to your vegetables and a bit of sugar on sliced fruit.

Protect Sense of Smell

  • Exercise regularly and avoid drinking excessive alcohol; doing so will make it less likely that you’ll lose this sense.
  • Don’t use cleaning products and other chemicals with strong fumes.
  • Gently smell familiar aromas a few minutes every day. These could include rose, eucalyptus, lemon and clove.

Protect Sense of Touch

  • According to AARP, “If you like to dance, then dance. If you like to walk, walk. If you like to play tennis, continue to do that or other similar activities. The more your body has the experience of moving in space, the more those receptors will stay active and useful.”
  • “Hug your spouse, kiss your grandkids . . . Pet the dog. Schedule a massage.”

You can find more in-depth information from MedlinePlus.gov and AgeWatch.org.uk on how to protect your senses as you age.

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