Losing Your Senses? Multisensory Losses Impact Older Adults

First Posted: Feb 21, 2016 07:36 AM EST

Previous studies link loss of one's senses--including taste, smell, touch, vision, and hearing--to an increased risk of cognitive decline, poor mental health and increased mortality. For instance, losing the sense of taste can increase the risk of making poor food choices. However, up until now, little has been known about losing multiple senses.

New findings published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society examine data from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP), a population-based study on adults between the ages of 57-85. The study examined information on participants' five senses and asked them to rate their physical health, overall.

Findings revealed that 94 percent of the participants experienced loss in at least one of their senses and up to 67 percent had two or more sensory losses. Of those with multisensory losses, 65 percent also had substantial loss in at least one of their senses, and 22 percent experienced substantial loss in two or more senses.

Furthermore, older age was liked to poorer age in all five senses, with the largest differences coming from hearing, smell and vision. Men also seemed to have worse functioning compared to women when it came to hearing, smell and taste. However, men had better corrected vision than female counterparts, according to study authors.

Researchers also noted some discrepancies regarding race, including that African Americans and Hispanics tended to have worse sensory function than Caucasian counterparts in all senses except for hearing. On the other hand, Hispanics seemed to have better function in taste than other groups in the study.

The findings are particularly important as the loss of senses that come with age can make it increasingly challenging for elderly individuals to interact with the world around them. Researchers are hopeful that further studies on multisensorty loss can help to better promote the design of programs that prevent or treat loss. 

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