Imagine being unable to see well enough to drive. What if you couldn’t smell your favorite flower? Consider what it would be like losing the taste of Mom’s cookies. How would you feel if you could no longer hear the gurgling stream that runs through the nearby park? Contemplate being unable to feel the furry touch of the family dog under your fingertips. Some people – maybe your parents, grandparents or even you – know all too well what it’s like.
Aging can jeopardize each of the five senses – sight, sound, touch, taste and smell – in various ways. It’s easy to take our senses for granted until they are diminished or gone. “People often don’t take into account how sensory loss can impact independence or the ability to enjoy life,” said Home Instead Senior Care® Gerontologist and Caregiver Advocate Lakelyn Hogan.
But seniors like 84-year-old Dee are finding ways to live every day with these types of losses, and not just survive but thrive. Dee is blind in one eye as a result of a tennis accident when she was 62. Her hearing has gotten gradually worse since a bout with Rocky Mountain fever as a child. In fact, she is nearly deaf without her hearing aids.
Although she’s had to give up tennis and driving at night, those losses haven’t seemed to slow her down. With one “good” eye, she has been cleared by doctors to drive during daylight hours and as a result of advances in hearing aid technology, she doesn’t miss much in the way of fun with family and friends.
And fun she has had, serving as a flower girl for her grandson’s wedding, tooling around town in a convertible on her 80th birthday, and doing somersaults on her bed each morning to keep her back limber. Dee, who is retired from jobs with a data company, a radio station and professional caregiving, loves to travel and is planning trips to California’s Route 66 and the national parks with family. She easily sprints up and down stairs “at least 20 times a day” to and from her basement living quarters in the home she shares with daughter, Denise, and Denise’s husband.
“Mom is spectacular and fun-loving,” Denise said. “She always worked, but always had time to be with us. And we’ve never held her back. She’s done what she’s had to do and made adjustments,” said Denise, noting that a speaker phone was a necessity in the family home as is closed captioning that alleviates the need to turn up the TV volume.
The family also provides plenty of support when needed. “If Mom wants to go somewhere at night, we make sure she gets there.”
What’s Dee’s secret? “I take care of myself and do things for myself and my family,” said the mother of three daughters and a son, grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of five.
Dee offers advice for those who are experiencing symptoms of sensory loss: don’t delay a visit to a doctor. “Follow up and do what medical professionals recommend. There’s so much marvelous technology. Don’t wait too long to get help.”
The Aging Senses public education campaign is designed to help anyone better understand what it’s like to live with sensory loss and provides free information and resources to assist seniors and their family caregivers in managing and living independently. “If you’re a family caregiver, have patience, encourage regular checkups, voice concerns and address those issues,” Home Instead’s Hogan said. “And from a communication standpoint, the focus should be on independence and safety with the help of family and in-home care.”