Sensory Loss


Sensory loss impacts millions of older folks in one or more of their primary senses.  Loss of even one sense can cause major changes in how you experience your life.  And sensory loss can lead to other health problems such as poor balance, poor nutrition, depression or even dementia.


Five Sense

Sensory Loss: Hearing

A lifetime of noise can lead to hearing deterioration.  The tiny hair cells in your ears that send signals to your brain don’t regenerate.  And while the brain naturally shrinks as we age, hearing loss can accelerate the shrinking, which in turn increases the risk of dementia.

Often the ability to hear high-frequency sounds goes first. You may have trouble telling the difference between similar sounds.  And when you can’t hear wellenough to get in on the conversation, loneliness and depression can become factors.


Hearing loss can mess with your balance, increasing the risk of falling.  You may have problems maintaining your balance as you sit, stand, or walk.

Things you can do:

  • Wear ears plugs or head phones to protect your ears from loud sounds.
  • Watch your weight, blood pressure and blood sugar levels to help keep the tiny arteries that feed the hair cells in your ears healthy.
  • Use hearing aids or TV & phone amplification devices. Hearing aid users score better than nonusers on cognitive and memory tests.
  • Have your ears checked for wax build-up – a common age-related cause of hearing issues.

Sensory Loss: Sight

Focusing up close becomes more difficult as you age and you may need more light to see.  Your eyes produce fewer tears, and may become dry, making them feel tired and gritty.  Rates of macular degeneration and glaucoma double between the ages of 45 & 55, and the risk of cataracts triples.

You may become less able to tolerate glare or have trouble adapting to darkness or bright light. Problems with glare, brightness, and darkness may make you limit or give up driving at night.

As you age, it gets harder to tell blues from greens than it is to tell reds from yellows. Using warm contrasting colors (yellow, orange, and red) in your home can improve your ability to see.

Things you can do:

  • Get regular exercise to help maintain blood flow to the eyes.Sensory Loss
  • Get regular, plentiful sleep to help keep eyes lubricated.
  • Treat dry eye with an eye lubricant. (See your eye doctor for the best options for your situation.)  Treating dry eye can make you feel better, reduce blurry vision and make reading easier.
  • Use a night light to brighten hallways or bathrooms. Keeping a red light on in darkened rooms, such as the hallway or bathroom, makes it easier to see than using a regular night light.


Sensory Loss: Taste

If you find yourself adding more salt or sugar to your food, it may be a sign your taste bud cells aren’t regenerating as quickly as they used to.  As we age, the number of taste buds declines and the remaining taste buds begin to shrink.  We also produce less saliva, causing a dry mouth, which can affect taste.

Some health issues, such as diabetes and respiratory infections can alter your ability to taste.   When that happens, you may find yourself going for more sweet or salty processed foods and skipping the fruits and vegies.  On a positive note, you may find that strong-flavored vegies you once avoided, such as broccoli and cabbage, taste better to you now.

Things you can do:

  • Take care of your body to reduce high blood pressure, inflammation, and diabetes.
  • Add more intense flavor to your food with spices, garlic, onion, sharp cheese and flavored vinegars.
  • If medications may be causing dry mouth, talk to your doctor about trying an alternate drug.
  • Add salt & sugar sparingly.

Sensory Loss: Smell

Odor signals are connected to memory & emotions.  As the relevant nerve endings die off, loss of smell means those old memory links will no longer be triggered.  There is a strong link between smell and taste, therefore loss of smell can make your food less appealing.

The hazardous side to loss of smell includes not noticing if leftovers have spoiled.  You may not be able to detect the smell of smoke or the odor of natural gas.

Things you can do:

  • Those who maintain a regular exercise routine are less likely to experience loss of smell.
  • Avoid excessive drinking.
  • Stay away from strong fumes, such as cleaning products and other chemicals.
  • Challenge your nose by smelling familiar odors each day – such as lemon, clove and lavender.
  • Be sure your smoke & CO2 detectors are installed and working properly.

Sensory Loss:


By the time people are in their 50’s, about 30% claim to have some reduction in sense of touch.  When sense of touch declines, your ability to detect pain, heat and cold decreases. This loss of sensation can lead to increased risk of burns or frost bite.

Aging touch receptors can affect sensors in your joints, muscles, tendons and skin.  These receptors help your body know where it is in space, so ineffective receptors can make you feel unsteady or clumsy.

Things you can do:

  • Stay active – walk, dance, golf, play tennis. The more your body moves, the more your receptors will stay active and helpful.
  • Kiss your spouse/partner, and hug your kids & grandkids. Pet the dog or cat.  Keep those touch receptors busy!
  • Lower the water heater temperature to no higher than 120°F (49°C) to avoid burns.
  • Check the thermometer to decide how to dress, rather than waiting until you feel overheated or chilled.
  • Inspect your skin, especially your feet, for injuries. If you find an injury, treat it. Don’t assume the injury is not serious just because the area is not painful.


Your senses receive helpful information from your environment.  Loss of sensory input can affect your lifestyle and safety.  Implementing the suggestions above will help to reduce the impact of sensory loss on your life and style.