Age can take a toll on the senses. Eyesight may worsen. Hearing starts to go. Even the senses of smell and taste may be diminished.
Health researchers have studied the effects when someone loses one of the senses, but there has been little research of what happens when a person loses multiple senses.
For example, existing studies have found that when a person loses the sense of smell, vision, or hearing, he or she is at greater risk of cognitive decline and poor mental health.
Losing the sense of taste can lead to poor nutrition and even death in certain instances.
Now, a new study has looked at what happens when older adults lose two or more senses. It found that decline is often more rapid.
Writing up their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, University of Chicago researchers studied data collected by the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a population-based study of adults aged 57-85.
In particular, the study collected information about the subjects' senses of vision, touch, smell, hearing, and taste. The participants were also asked to rate their physical health.
The researchers found that 94% experienced loss in at least one of their senses; 67% had two or more sensory losses. Nearly 20% of those who suffered correctable deficiencies – such as hearing and vision – rated the corrections as only fair or poor.
Link to quality of life
The researchers concluded that quality of life in old age is, in many ways, contingent upon keeping the five senses functioning satisfactorily. They also said that losing more than one sense might explain why older adults report having a poorer quality of life and face challenges in interacting with other people and the world around them.
But how can we use this data? For one thing, the study authors say there should be additional research into multi-sensory loss because it might help doctors design better programs to prevent or treat loss and to ease the suffering such losses cause.