The five senses are hearing, vision, smell, touch, and taste. When these senses begin to dim or are lost as we age, we face challenges dealing with everyday life. Losing one's senses can also cause serious health problems.
Researchers have mainly focused on what happens after people lose one or two of their senses. However, we know that losing more than two senses occurs frequently for older adults. Until now, no studies have examined how losing multiple senses affects older adults. To learn more, a team of researchers from the University of Chicago designed a study to focus on just that. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The researchers conducted home interviews among 3,005 older adults between the ages of 57 and 85. They checked participants' abilities to hear, see, smell, touch, and taste. They also assessed the participants' mobility, health behaviors, chronic diseases, cognitive function (the ability to think and make decisions), and BMI (body-mass index, a measure for obesity that compares your height to your weight). Five years later, the researchers reassessed the participants who were still living to measure:
- Mobility (measured with a timed 10-foot long walk)
- Degree of difficulty performing eight key daily activities, including bathing, feeding and shopping for themselves; doing light housekeeping; and managing their own finances
- Physical activity, measured with a fitness tracking device used for research purposes
- Mental health status
- Overall health
The researchers reported that the more sensory losses older adults experienced, the worse they performed on the mobility test. Participants with greater sensory problems were more likely to have trouble performing two or more daily activities.
Women, older participants, smokers, and people with more chronic illnesses had higher levels of disability than other participants.
After five years, the participants who had more sensory disabilities at the beginning of the study walked more slowly than participants who had fewer sensory problems. Participants who were obese and had high blood pressure and more chronic illnesses walked much slower than other participants. Women, minorities, and people with less education also walked much slower than other participants.
- People with more sensory losses at the beginning of the study also had:
- Difficulty performing their daily activities
- Difficulty staying physically active
- Difficulty staying sharp mentally
- Overall worse health
- Unhealthy weight loss
- Increased risk for dying
The researchers concluded that older adults with multiple sensory losses should be closely monitored because they are at higher risk for poor health. They also suggested that monitoring at-risk older adults sooner could help prevent problems such as cognitive impairment.
This summary is from "Global Sensory Impairment Predicts Morbidity and Mortality in Older US Adults". It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Jayant M. Pinto, MD; Kristen E. Wroblewski, MS; Megan Huisingh-Scheetz, MD, MPH; Camil Correia, MD; Kevin J. Lopez, BS; Rachel C. Chen, MD; David W. Kern, PhD; L. Philip Schumm, MA; William Dale, MD, PhD; and Martha K. McClintock, PhD.
About the Health in Aging Foundation
This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public. We are committed to ensuring that people are empowered to advocate for high-quality care by providing them with trustworthy information and reliable resources. Last year, we reached nearly 1 million people with our resources through HealthinAging.org. We also help nurture current and future geriatrics leaders by supporting opportunities to attend educational events and increase exposure to principles of excellence on caring for older adults. For more information or to support the Foundation's work, visit http://www.
About the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
Included in more than 9,000 library collections around the world, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS) highlights emerging insights on principles of aging, approaches to older patients, geriatric syndromes, geriatric psychiatry, and geriatric diseases and disorders. First published in 1953, JAGS is now one of the oldest and most impactful publications on gerontology and geriatrics, according to ISI Journal Citation Reports®. Visit wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/JGS for more details.
About the American Geriatrics Society
Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that has--for 75 years--worked to improve the health, independence, and quality of life of older people. Its nearly 6,000 members include geriatricians, geriatric nurses, social workers, family practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and internists. The Society provides leadership to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public by implementing and advocating for programs in patient care, research, professional and public education, and public policy. For more information, visit AmericanGeriatrics.org.