Sensory Solutions

Sensory Solutions

By Robin Bush, ISR Communications

Are you aware your senses may be changing? Sensory changes can affect your health and lifestyle.  Medications, illnesses, smoking, and allergies can make your senses less acute, affecting your awareness of the world around you. Loss of your senses may cause you to withdraw from situations where you need to communicate, leading to isolation. Notify your doctor of any changes in your senses.

Are there things you can do to minimize sensory loss or adaptations you can make to optimize your situation?  Yes! Our senses send signals through nerves to our brain, and it takes sufficient stimulation for the brain to register sensations, so we need to support those signal paths.

Your ears help you hear sound and regulate balance. Reduced ability to hear high frequencies or distinguish sounds, challenges understanding speech in noisy environments, or tinnitus (ringing in the ears) all signal that it’s time for a hearing test.  “About 50 percent of those 75 or older will have trouble carrying on a conversation.  Oftentimes, older adults are able to hear speech but cannot understand the message because the words become garbled.” (Oklahoma State University – Understanding the Effects of Aging on the Sensory System). This can contribute significantly to social isolation.  Hearing also affects balance, and falls are a significant health risk to older adults.  Hearing loss may not be reversible, but you can improve how you live with it. 

Helping hearing:

Eat well. Some vitamins help maintain a healthy nervous system. If you have hearing loss, or when speaking with someone with hearing loss, cut out background noise, talk face to face, and use gestures to support what you say.  Exercise is important. Walk as much as you can. Stand, don’t sit to maintain leg strength. To aid balance, take the free Zoom class offered twice weekly through WhidbeyHealth called S.A.I.L. (Stay Active and Independent for Life), which includes cardio and balance work.

Vision challenges like loss of clarity, difficulty with glare, sensitivity to brightness, or problems seeing well in low light should be looked into.

Helping vision:

Switch cool tones for warm ones in your home, change lights to higher wattage bulbs for brighter lighting, and install red lightbulbs that you leave on at night to help you see in hallways or bathrooms. These won’t fix your vision, but they can help you safely navigate your home. Consume enough vitamins and minerals, particularly those critical to maintaining vision. Sit or stand where you can see you well at events and sit where speakers are not backlit.

Smell and taste go hand in hand. The aroma of a meal encourages you to cook and eat.  Also, you may tend to be more social and linger over a tasty meal with others. Conversely, bad-smelling or tasting food can be a sign of spoilage, and bad smells in the air can indicate fire or gas. Some medical conditions can remove the ability to understand or distinguish smells, so pay attention to changes.

Helping taste and smell:

Eat foods with various textures that look appealing and avoid bland foods. Changes in medication may help. Increase spice and use stronger flavors when cooking. Install smoke or carbon dioxide detectors (change batteries yearly).

The skin is our largest organ, with millions of nerve endings.  Touch may be the most important of our senses.  We can live without sight, hearing, or taste, but life without touching has a dramatic impact on mental health. Touch communicates connection.  Loss of a sense of touch can occur after a stroke, with diseases such as Parkinson’s or Arthritis, or simply from sitting too long.  Our sense of touch is often perceived as our ability to feel pain.  Internal and external pain signals our brain that something internal is not operating correctly, or we have an injury or shouldn’t touch something. Reduced blood flow to nerve endings impacts our touch sensors and can even impair our ability to walk safely because of not feeling where the floor is.

Helping touch:

Improve safety at home by lowering your water heater temperature to no higher than 120 degrees to avoid burns.  Put a thermometer outside where you can read it indoors to dress appropriately for the weather.  Consult a physical therapist soon after an injury to improve healing. When you are with someone with a reduced sense of touch, brush their hair or rub lotion into their hands. Ask them what level of pressure is comfortable.

You will feel healthier, happier, and safer if you make changes today to support your senses.