Aging and Our Senses
To do well with Parkinson’s also means to do well with aging. Some of the changes that can occur affect our stamina movement and event our balance.
Some Parkinson’s symptoms can aggravate changes with age such as slowness in movement and thinking, flexed posture, stiffness, joint and muscle and back pain. Understanding how the body changes, what is preventable and what it means to us and our activities with age is important to our health with Parkinson’s. This article is part of a two part series- Aging and Our Senses and Aging and Our Body.
Sensory Our primary senses such as hearing, vision, taste and touch can change with age. These changes can affect our balance and even cognitive abilities. When reading about these changes think about what you can do to improve or prevent their ocurrance.
Hearing Problems with hearing occur in a third of people over 75 years and over half greater than 80 years. Hearing loss can ‘run in families’, be a result of nerve injury from illness, toxins or certain medicines, and long-term exposure to loud noise. As your hearing declines so may your ability to follow a conversation or interest in participating in conversation. Over time it just may seem easier to pay less attention. Talking on the phone may be difficult since we often rely on other cues- such as reading facial expression or lips when we do not hear well. Thinking functions can appear to be worse when you hear only partial or incorrect information. Reduced hearing can lead to frustrations and decreased communication between a couple leading to isolation and loneliness. If you have Parkinson’s disease your speech is soft and if your partner has trouble hearing- this is a double problem.
· Get your hearing checked. Signs your hearing is affected include- turning the TV loader, trouble hearing with background noise, or trouble hearing over the phone. An Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist can evaluate problems with the ear while an Audiometrist can measure the degree to which your hearing is affected and recommend treatments such as hearing aids.
· Keep background noise low.
· Look directly at the person you are speaking t so they can benefit from facial cues.
Vision There are many causes of vision changes with age but most of us experience trouble as we approach middle age with accommodation or near vision, leading to bifocal use. Bifocals may help near vision but may also cause trouble walking for people with Parkinson’s and balance problems. As we age peripheral vision can decline requiring us to turn our head to see. This puts more strain on walking if you have balance problems or neck rigidity. Difficulty with color vision- especially green and blue can become more of a problem with age. This and problems with depth perception can cuase mis-steps increasing the risk of falls.
· Review your medicines with your healthcare provider as some may cause dry eye and blurry vision.
· Get an eye exam yearly or more frequently if recommended to be sure other problems such as glaucoma, cataract, and macular degeneration are not present.
· Consider seeing a Neuropthalmologist if you use bifocals, are experiencing blurry vision, or double vision.
· Be sure your home has the right task lighting for the job.
· Use non-glare light bulbs and use nightlights in dark areas such as bathrooms, stairs and hallways.
· Ask for a physical therapy and/or occupational therapy for walking, balance, visual performance and home safety.
Taste and Smell Decreased smell and taste can be seen especially after the age of 70 years; but in the absence of other problems is usually mild. Loss of smell is often one of the earlier findings in Parkinson’s disease. Combined these problems can lead to loss of appetite, and a decreased pleasure in food. If you have trouble preparing foods due to dexterity problems or eat alone you may be less apt to prepare more enjoyable and favorable foods.
· Use spices to add flavor. Many spices are also powerful antioxidants.
· Add color and texture to diet to make it more interesting. More colorful foods such as fruits and vegetables will also increase antioxidant levels in your diet.
· Share meals with friends and family.
· Ask for a referral to a swallowing specialist if needed.
· See your dentist twice a year or as needed.
Sensation of Touch Decreased sensation to touch can occur over time. Temperature sensitivity is another complaint for many older people. Loss of sweating reflex, circulation problems, change in muscle mass, and activity level can lead to temperature sensitivity. A specific type of sensory loss called peripheral neuropathy causes numbness in the toes or feet. Age and diabetes are common causes. This affects walking and balance since your brain relies on nerve impulses from the feet to control balance.
· Make sure rooms are well lit. If your feet are numb you rely on other senses such as vision for balance.
· See your doctor if you have numbness or tingling.
· Pay close attention to your diet and glucose control if you are diabetic.
· Pay attention to your shoes to avoid pressure ulcers.
· Ask for a physical therapy and/or occupational therapy for walking, balance and home safety.
[See related articles on walking
, and balance.]
Author: Monique Giroux, MD
Copyright 2011 Northwest Parkinson's Foundation Wellness Center