In Well-being

Navigating Age-Related Vision and Hearing Changes with Expert Strategies

By, Amanda Daggett, Director of Nursing

“Grow old with me! The best is yet to be,” wrote poet Robert Browning. Aging gracefully can be a challenge felt by many older adults. What will go first, we wonder, our vision or our hearing?

Nearly everyone requires reading glasses by the time they reach their mid-40s due to vision changes, while only one-third will experience hearing loss. So, the answer to your question is likely vision before hearing. Vision loss is not normal, but changes to vision are. Aging eyesight includes difficulty focusing on images up close, distinguishing between colors such as blue from black, or objects from backgrounds, and the need for brighter lighting, and time to adjust to different lighting. As we age, we are more prone to eye diseases such as macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma.

Vision is important for us to maintain a safe environment, connect with people, and keep our minds sharp. We must take care of our eyes by having an eye exam with dilation every 1-2 years after age 60. For those with high blood pressure or diabetes, the risk is higher, and an eye exam should be sought every year. You can protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses and a hat, not smoking, eating healthy, being active, maintaining a healthy weight, and maintaining normal blood pressure. Vision loss may occur if proper care is not taken.

When vision changes occur, older adults can improve the safety of their surroundings by brightening the lighting in the room and using colored tape on stair edges, or uneven surfaces to prevent trip hazards. Contrasting colors between floors, countertops, walls, light switches, and furniture can assist in navigating an environment safely.

For the one-third who will experience hearing loss, this is usually attributed to genetics, a history of an environment with loud noises, earwax buildup, or diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, infection, stroke, or a brain injury. Many people ignore or may not recognize early signs of hearing loss because it comes on gradually, but early detection and early treatment is important. Early signs may include trouble understanding a phone conversation, difficulty following conversations when two or more people are talking or there is background noise, asking someone to repeat what they’ve said, people may complain your TV is too loud, you think others are mumbling, or you have difficulty understanding high pitched voices.

When experiencing hearing challenges, see your primary care physician. They will complete an assessment and refer you to a specialist if additional treatment is needed. Hearing loss will worsen if not treated. It may lead to cognitive loss, social isolation, loneliness, increased risk of falls, and make driving difficult or unsafe.

Although all five senses are important in our daily lives, studies suggest that vision is the most valued sense, followed by hearing. While we can’t slow down the aging process, we can certainly do our best to care for ourselves to preserve our senses as long as possible and grow old with them!

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