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All Five Senses Are Important for Your Safety and Quality of Life: If your senses aren't so sharp anymore, take action to protect yourself from potential harms.

It's well known that impaired vision and hearing loss are common among older adults. But deficits in your other senses--smell, taste, and touch--also may be hazardous to your health.

A closer look at each of the five senses provides more information about potential dangers, as well as strategies that can protect you.


Poor vision is connected with a higher risk of falls and fractures, as well as driving accidents. Visual impairment also has been linked to a greater risk for depression and anxiety.

What You Can Do. Have an eye exam at least once a year, or more frequently if your doctor recommends it. Even if your vision hasn't changed, don't skip your yearly exam; eye conditions including glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration can be detected in the early stages only by an eye exam, and early treatment reduces the chance of advanced vision loss. Take steps to reduce your risk of falls in your home. Make sure you have adequate lighting, especially in bathrooms and stairways. Keep your living space clear of clutter and tripping hazards.


Hearing loss can impact your ability to avoid potentially dangerous situations, such as remaining in the path of a fire truck or ambulance when you're driving. Impaired hearing can also result in social withdrawal and a decrease in activities, and it has been linked to a greater risk for depression, memory issues, and falls.

What You Can Do. If you have trouble hearing, consult an audiologist, who can evaluate the type and degree of hearing loss and fit you properly for hearing aids. Although mail-order hearing aids may cost less, they are unlikely to work well, since they are not matched to your specific type and degree of hearing loss.

It may take several weeks to get used to hearing aids. If you find that they don't improve your hearing or are bothersome, return to your doctor for an adjustment. Stick with it until you get something that works well for you.


A loss of taste can result in a loss of appetite, which can lead to inadequate food intake and malnourishment. Taste also functions as one of your body's defense mechanisms against ingesting dangerous substances, such as foods that contain harmful bacteria.

What You Can Do. Sometimes, a medical condition or medications can affect your sense of taste; report your loss of taste to your doctor, and ask if he or she can identify any possible contributors to the problem.

To boost the flavor of foods, skip the salt shaker; instead, add herbs, spices, and a squeeze of citrus.

Make sure you are eating regularly and getting adequate nutrition, even if you're not always hungry at mealtimes.


Loss of smell can also result in a waning appetite and a risk of nutritional deficiencies. Foodborne illness is also a danger if an impaired sense of smell doesn't alert you to the fact that food is spoiled. Loss of smell can also put you at risk in the event of a fire, since you may be unable to smell the smoke.

What You Can Do. Tell your doctor if you think you're losing your sense of smell, and ask if any medications or medical conditions you have may be may be affecting it.

In your home, install smoke detectors, as well as alarms for natural and propane gas if you use these products.

Check the use-by date on food (particularly meat, poultry, and fish) before consuming it.


Lack of touch sensitivity may place you at risk for burns if you can't feel that an object (the stove or oven) or liquid (shower or bath water) is hot. You also may find that it's difficult to carry out tasks that rely on finger manipulation. If you've lost sense of touch in your feet, your balance can be affected, your risk of falls increases, and if you have cuts or sores, you are at higher risk of infection.

What You Can Do. Set your water heater to a maximum of 120[degrees]F. Keep a thermometer in the bathroom and use it to check the temperature of bathwater before you get in the tub--it shouldn't be any higher than 100[degrees]F.

Be alert for cuts and other injuries, particularly on the soles and sides of your feet. Don't assume an injury is minor just because it doesn't hurt much--treat it immediately.


Use these helpful resources if you need them:

* Get a home safety checklist from the Office of the Surgeon General here:

* Get a fall prevention checklist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website here:

* If you cannot afford hearing aids, contact the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (800/241-1044; www., or the Better Hearing Institute (202/448-1100; www. for information about financial assistance.
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Title Annotation:PREVENTION
Publication:Women's Health Advisor
Date:May 1, 2019
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