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Don't take leave of your senses; Studies show our senses dull as we age. Fiona Duffy seeks out easy ways you can protect and preserve your sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

SIGHT It's the sense we most dread losing, yet a quarter of us fail to have our eyes checked every two years. Poor uptake of eye tests is the biggest risk to our sight even though half of all sight loss is avoidable, says the Royal National Institute of Blind People.

Don't lose it | Cut down on booze and quit smoking: David Cartwright, optometrist and chairman of Eye Health UK said: "Heavy drinking (three or more units per day) has been associated with the development of early age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the UK's leading cause of sight loss. Smokers are up to four times more likely to lose their sight than someone who has never smoked.

"Toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the delicate surface and internal structure of the eye leading to a raised risk of conditions including AMD, thyroid eye disease, dry eye and poor colour vision."

| Be screen smart. Avoid eye strain when working at a screen by following the 20-20-20 rule: look 20ft in front of you every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. | Eat less meat and more fish. "Just one portion of fish a week can reduce your risk of developing AMD by up to 40 per cent, while ditching a diet high in meat (more than 100g daily - the equivalent of two small sausages) could cut your risk of cataracts," said David.

| A healthy weight helps protect the retina against the breakdown of cells and the onset of AMD and prevents damage to blood vessels linked to glaucoma. | Get moving. Studies have shown that regular exercise, such as walking, can reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration by up to 70 per cent and decrease the risk of age-related cataracts too, says Dr Nigel Best of Specsavers. Take a brisk 20-minute walk at least four times a week.

TOUCH The skin is the largest sensory organ in the body, carrying messages to the brain via neurons that have nerve endings in the skin. However, receptors are lost as we age so people become less aware of touch sensations, explains Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director at Healthspan. Sensitivity can also be altered by infection, disease or damage to sensory neurons.

Don't lose it | Take regular breaks from repetitive actions like typing which can cause nerve damage. Quit smoking, keep hands and feet warm and exercise daily to boost your circulation. | Three out of five postmenopausal women notice an impaired sense of touch due to lack of oestrogen, which affects skin sensation.

Dr Brewer said: "Hormone replacement therapy brings dramatic relief - or consider herbal remedies such as isoflavones or black cohosh."

| Diabetes is the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy (numbness and loss of sensation in hands and feet). Reduce your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and being active.

SMELL Anosmia, or losing your sense of smell, affects approximately five per cent of the population and can have a profound impact.

"In addition to alerting us to danger, smell plays an important role in memory, mood and emotion," said Professor Carl Philpott, director of research and medical affairs at the charity Fifth Sense.

"Sufferers often talk of feeling isolated and cut off from the world around them, and experiencing a 'blunting' of emotions. Smell loss can affect one's ability to form and maintain close personal relationships and can lead to depression."

It can also indicate more serious health problems, such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's. A diminishing sense of smell can be an early sign of the onset of both conditions.

Don't lose it | Wash your hands. Preventing germs and viruses entering the body via the eyes, nose and mouth could reduce colds by 45 per cent, say US scientists. "Cold viruses can damage receptors causing permanent loss of smell," explains Prof Philpott.

| Wear a cycling helmet. Trauma or head injury can significantly impact your sense of smell.

| Tackle sinus problems. Chronic sinusitis is the leading cause of smell loss, with sufferers most likely to respond to treatment. See your GP if problems persist.

| Wash your nasal passages. "Smell nerves inside the nose are unprotected and can be damaged by pollutants," says Prof Philpott. "Squirting a saline solution into the nostrils helps clear particles and debris that can cause damage or allergies, improves mucus clearance and can reduce inflammation and prevent infection." For more information, see fifthsense.org.uk.

| Seek help as soon as you notice your sense of smell deteriorating. Early intervention results in better outcomes.

TASTE From birth to adulthood, we naturally lose two-thirds of our taste buds, dropping from 30,000 to 10,000. Loss of taste or ageusia - the ability to detect the five basic tastes of sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness and savouriness (umami) - is much rarer than loss of smell, but can reduce with age or as a result of neurological conditions such as stroke or epilepsy, reduced saliva flow and zinc deficiency, said Dr Sarah Brewer.

Don't lose it | Up your intake of zinc-rich foods such as lamb, grass-fed beef, seafood, pumpkin seeds and oats. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about supplements if you think you are deficient. | Avoid very hot foods and fluids as they can damage the taste buds, advises nutritionist Sonal Shah.

"Add a new ingredient to meals every few days to re-educate your tongue. Chew thoroughly to release more flavour and activate taste buds."

| Check your meds. "Some, such as blood pressure tablets, have side effects which can dull the sense of smell or taste. Talk to your doctor to make sure you're receiving the right dosage," said Sonal.

| Floss. Food trapped between the teeth means debris lingers in the mouth for longer, slowly dissolving into our saliva and affecting taste buds, says Dr Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation.

"Gum disease and failing to clean dentures every day can also lead to bad-smelling breath and an unpleasant taste. Practise good dental hygiene and have regular dental check-ups," he added.

HEARING Despite hearing loss affecting 11 million people in the UK, almost half of Brits have never had a hearing test. Action on Hearing Loss estimates that we wait an average of 10 years after hearing deterioration begins before seeking help.

Worryingly, a recent study published in The Lancet revealed that even mild levels of hearing loss increase the long-term risk of cognitive decline and dementia in people aged 55 and over.

Don't lose it | Have hearing checks every two years, or annually once you hit 55. Ask your GP for a referral if you have concerns or arrange a test at a pharmacy or opticians. | Notice excess noise, suggested MED-EL audiologist Patrick D'Haese. "If you have to shout to be heard by someone an arm's length away, the noise is too loud. Wear earplugs at concerts and noisy environments, and keep your distance from speakers."

| Switch earbuds for headphones. These isolate background noise so you can listen at a lower volume and provide more space between the source of sound and your inner ear.

| "Use volume limits on smartphone and headphones, which warn when the sound is too high," said Gordon Harrison, chief audiologist for Specsavers. The United Nations estimates that around 50 per cent of young people listen to unsafe levels of sound through personal audio devices, so limit headphone music to 60 per cent of the maximum volume (anything above 85 decibels is harmful) and take regular breaks.

| Don't dismiss hearing aids if you need them. Many models are now small and discreet - and using them will actually slow deterioration.
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 16, 2019
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