There are a number of factors that can impact on individuals with sensory loss. Communication is an area in which people with sensory loss have many issues. Normal day to day activities can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety. For example if someone does not have sensory loss they may enjoy watching television. Just to imagine not be able to hear what was being said properly, the frustration that must be felt can lead to feelings of inadequacy. For someone who is not able to see the television- they will miss out on action that is not spoken, for example on someone smiling. We express a lot with our body language, facial expressions and that allows to show how are we feeling, but someone unable to see will not be able to read it… The process of aging begins at birth and continues throughout the life.
Change is an inevitable part of the aging process. Sensation is the physical and mental process that allows us to receive information from our surrounding environment through the ears, skin, tongue, nostrils, eyes and other specialised sense organs. Key sensing processes include vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Sensory loss is defined as a decreased ability to respond to stimuli that affect our senses( hearing, touch, etc) For example, vision loss might mean that we cannot see a person across the street wave at us, or hearing loss might result in us struggling to hear people speaking in a certain tone of voice.
Sensory loss is inevitable, but that does not mean that adults who are losing one or more senses have no options available to them. Physical changes associated with aging, beyond gray hair and wrinkles, are not always visually noticeable, are constantly changing and can affect us in many ways. Imagine not being able to see a beautiful sunset or to hear grandchildren playing or smell favourite flowers. These losses affect people in different ways. The impact of these losses can lead to social isolation, loneliness and feelings of depression. Sensory changes does not occur at the same age for each person, nor do all changes occur to everyone or to the same degree. An awareness of different sensory changes and their effects can be helpful. Studies have shown changes accelerate at these approximate age ranges:
Sensory loss seems to be an almost inevitable companion to growing old, but that not true at all. Cures may not be available for the major causes of age-related sensory loss, but armed with the right knowledge about which age-related sensory losses are normal and which are not, we can better understand what to do about them. Understanding sensory loss can help individuals adapt and accept these natural changes. Equally important is not accepting change as a normal part of aging without first understanding the loss. A variety of resources that can help minimize the impact of sensory losses as we age often are available.
Alterations of the environment to compensate for age-related sensory losses, is necessary for many older adults to maintain their independent living. Thorough knowledge of the changes in vision, taste, smell, touch and hearing that accompany the aging process is essential to assessing environmental alterations. As we age, the shape of the eye lens changes. The lens and cornea become less transparent, the pupil becomes smaller and the field of vision shrinks. Visual difficulties may come with these physical changes in the eye, such as: Decreased ability to see objects clearly
Decreased ability to focus on objects at different distances Decreased ability to function in low lights levels
Decreased ability to correctly judge distances
Common types of vision loss include glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. A problem in many homes that affects vision is an improper amount of light. As we age, we need greater amount of light. Studies show that a person who is 80 years old will need three times more light that a young adult to read a book. Colour vision and contrast sensitivity also are affected by aging. The aging lens and cornea cause glare by light scattering, leading to poor vision quality, especially when the pupil dilates in the dark. In addition to larger print, providing colour contrast between the print and the paper can help reduce the effort of reading. As changes occur in vision appointment to optician need to be made, and to get proper glasses for optimal vision. Around home also changes need to be done to compensate for changes in vision. To maximize visual capacity by increasing level of light and evenly distribute the light sources to eliminate glare. Also regular checkups with optician are essential. Loss of hearing is very gradual, starting at middle age. The loss appears to be caused by decrease in the elasticity of the eardrum.
Hearing loss often develops slowly and quietly. People may complain that they can hear the spoken sounds, but they can’t understand what the speaker is saying. Words that are quite different can sound the same, such as tea/pea/key, shop/shot/shock or fine/shine/sign. Impaired hearing affects more older adults than any other chronic condition. Although only 2 percent of people 55 and older are classified as legally deaf, 30 percent to 50 percent of older adults suffer a hearing loss serious enough to negatively affect the quality of communication and interpersonal relationships. People have decreased ability to hear high frequencies and sounds in general. Sounds may be muffled and difficult to understand. Studies find that high-frequency sounds are filtered out or not heard.
Therefore, asking individuals to speak louder may not make the message easier to understand. People with decreased ability to hear may deny or be embarrassed to talk about the problem. Hearing aids, while very beneficial, never can replace normal hearing. Many background noises from radio, television, appliances, traffic or busy public gatherings all detract from hearing normal conversation. Other obstacles that may be treatable also could be playing a part in hearing loss. To accommodate an individual with hearing loss need to try and cut down on background noise, turn off television or radio during conversation. We need to protect our hearing health as much as possible during lifetime by staying away from loud or prolonged noises when possible, buy power tools with sound control and use something to protect hearing. Many people are not aware that an individual’s sense of smell and sense of taste are closely related.
Sensory losses in taste and smell can lead to other health concerns for aging individuals. At age 30, a person has 245 taste buds on each of the tiny elevations (called papilla) on the tongue. By age 70, the number of taste buds decreases to approximately 88. The sense of taste changes slowly. Sweet and salty seem to be the first affected. For older people normal seasoning may seem bland. Use of herbs instead of salt may be one answer to increasing the flavour of foods without increasing sodium content, especially for older adults who have high blood pressure. The lack of taste appeal may discourage the older adults from eating, which may indirectly lead to poor nutrition. One way to compensate for the loss of taste sometimes seen with illness and aging is to concentrate on contrasts in texture, temperature and flavour in preparing foods. Smell also makes things enjoyable. Our “odour” memories frequently have strong emotional qualities and are associated with the good or bad experiences in which they occurred. Also, when eating a favourite food, the taste is much more flavourful when a person is feeling healthy.
Humans can recognise as many as 10.000 different scents, compared with the sense of taste, which is limited to four basic categories- sweet, salty, sour and bitter. The sense of smell is very important, but often taken for granted. The sense of smell is not only important to taste, but it is also essential for detecting the signs of danger, such as smoke, gas leaks, and spoiled foods. A person living with the loss of smell needs to take extra safety precautions. Smoke detectors are a necessity in all areas of the home, especially in the kitchen and near fireplaces. The sense of smell is equally important for identifying spoiled food. Because smell plays an important role in sense related to food quality, safety precautions in handling food are important for older adults. This particularly includes proper storage of food, refrigeration and other food safety guidelines. Touch is a wonderful and needed sense. As we age the sense of touch decreases because the skins sensitivity decreases.
The skin becomes less taut and has a loss of elasticity. Tissue loss occurs immediately below the skin. These changes are attributed to changes in the amount of fat below the skin, as well as decreased numbers of nerve endings. Touch is necessary sense that alerts us to changes in temperature, movement or pain. We put on more clothes we feel the temperature cool on our skin. We move a hand away when someone leans too heavily on it. Loss of tissue and elasticity in skin cells means that older people may become less responsive to stimuli affecting our sense of touch. Because the skin loses sensitivity, an older adult may not experience pain until the skin has been damaged. The reduced fat can cause the body, particularly the extremities, to bruise or even tear for no apparent reason. Reduced nerve endings can result in a person not noticing a cut, blister or other injury that can lead to infection.
The decreased sensitivity may affect a person’s ability to distinguish different stimuli or may reduce their reaction time. For example, the older adult may have difficulty differentiating coins or buttons or have difficulties with fine dexterity, such as catching or picking up small objects. Other small motor skills may be affected such as writing with pen, also might be affected. Individuals experiencing these disturbances are considered to be a at high risk of injury of various sorts because they are deprived of the normal defense mechanisms that touch provides. Most damage to senses is caused by environmental factors, much of which becomes apparent as people enter their 70s. Although genetics is known to influence longevity and optimal aging, research suggests that good lifestyle choices, including regular exercise, diet and nutrition, have a significant impact on how well individuals age. The challenges of life do not become easier as one age. Fears, physical difficulties and various losses occur.
They include sensory losses in the areas of vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch. However, individuals who are prepared and informed can cope successfully with these life challenges. Changing lifestyle can help reduce the potential losses that commonly affect the aging. Being optimistic, coping with a sensory loss and maintaining social contact can contribute to an improved quality of life. In spite of physical loss and difficulties most older people adjust quite well and are able to compensate for their sensory losses. A person can be born with sensory impairment ( congenital sensory loss) or experience sensory loss later in life ( acquired sensory loss). There are about 356.000 deaf blind people in the UK, some are totally deaf and totally blind, while others have some hearing and/or vision.
Courtney from Study Moose
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