Our eyes and ears are our windows into the world and critical tools for remaining independent as we age.
Whether you are cooking a meal, conversing with a family member or simply crossing the street on an errand, the ability to accurately perceive the world around you is often the deciding factor in your success or failure.
To that end, this blog looks at good habits you can develop now to ensure you and your loved ones can remain engaged with the best possible ear and eye health.
How sight and sound impacts independence
Sensory fidelity is critical to a senior’s safety for a variety of reasons:
- Falls: Poor eyesight is often sighted as a contributing factor to many senior falls, hospitalizations and subsequent reductions in physical health and independence, as poor eyesight makes it much harder to identify and avoid potential fall hazards and judge distances as people cross stairs, doorways and sidewalk curbs.
- Self-care: Staying up to date on medication regimens become extremely difficult when poor eyesight limits your ability to read prescription bottle labels or written instructions from a doctor, potentially leading to further medical complications.
- Day-to-day independence: People with limited vision will often limit their travel to a small geographic area where they hope their familiarity can fill in sensory gaps. This can lead to errands going undone, a reluctance to try new experiences and a significant increase in risk for mishaps when the individual’s routine is changed.
- Social isolation: No one likes to ask others to speak up due to poor hearing, which in turn can create a reluctance in many to engage in social activities, creating a disconnect between seniors and those around them.
It should be noted that while each of these challenges can be “lived with” or seen as “a natural part of growing older,” the limitations caused by poor eye and ear health compound on one another and make it more difficult for a senior to overcome more acute impediments to their health.
Screening is key
One of the most challenging elements of identifying declining sight or hearing is our ability to gradually adapt to and compensate for limited senses over time.
People will often make small adjustments to their day-to-day routines to compensate for limited senses by doing things like increasing the volume they normally use to watch TV, limiting their time outside at night or holding reading material closer to their face. While these strategies work in the short term, they do not address the root problem and might allow limited senses to become significantly worse if left untreated.
Because hearing and vision challenges will likely get worse with time, it is critical that Adults 59 and older get their vision and hearing checked at least once a year, especially if you notice any of the following:
- Blurred vision/difficulty seeing details
- Decreased vision in low-light situations or adjusting to different lighting situations takes longer
- Less accuracy when judging distances or depth
- A reduction in visual field (the ability to see things in your peripheral vision)
- Difficulty identifying what direction a sound came from
- Difficulty holding a conversation, especially when you cannot see the speaker’s mouth moving
- You find yourself regularly turning up the volume of your television
- Difficulty following a conversation in a loud or crowded environment, like a sidewalk or busy restaurant
Remember, the sooner you bring these challenges to your physician, the easier it will be to head these problems off before they significantly impact your ability to live independently!