5 Ways To Sharpen Your Senses

November 22nd, 2016

5 Ways To Sharpen Your Senses

Living healthy now can keep your sight, hearing, and other senses younger longer

NOVEMBER 3, 2011
woman holding glasses
Too often, we don’t appreciate what we’ve got until it’s gone. Look at our senses: We take them for granted and they have a way of slipping with age—we strain to read the menu or catch that punch line. But if we took the time now to baby our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and hands, we could have them firing on all cylinders for years to come. Keep your senses young and vibrant with this guide—your attitude will follow.

See Clearly for Life

The sense slip: Dry eyes At about age 45, you’ll experience a drop in estrogen and androgen, which often leads to fewer tears and eyelid inflammation. The result: light sensitivity, blurry vision, and burning eyes, says Robert Latkany, MD, director of the Dry Eye Clinic in New York City.

Prevention Recommends
  • Prevent it A diet rich in omega-3s can keep dry-eye syndrome at bay. If you don’t have at least one serving of fish or walnuts daily, talk to your doctor about supplements.
  • Reverse it If upping your omega-3s for a month doesn’t help enough, look into prescription drops like Restasis, which stimulate tear production.

The sense slip: Cataracts The condition—which clouds the lens, hindering vision—can arise as early as your 40s; by 80, more than 50% of Americans will have developed them.

  • Prevent it A Tufts University study found that 10 years of regularly taking vitamin C supplements cuts your risk by 60%. It’s smart to shun smoking and prolonged sun exposure—both prompt free-radical formation, which greatly increases your chances of a cataract.
  • Reverse it One of the most common fixes is surgery to remove and replace the clouded lens. As with any surgery, there is a risk of infection and bleeding.

Boost Your Sense of Smell and Taste

The sense slip: Faded smell After 65, about half the population will notice a weaker sense of smell. As you age, you lose cell receptors that detect odor.

  • Prevent it Minimize contact with smoke and household chemicals like insecticides; they can damage nasal membranes. Also, “There’s evidence that the more you seek out scents, the better you maintain your sense of smell,” says Richard L. Doty, PhD, director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania. It’ll increase nerve stimulation, making your sense stronger. Starting at age 50, take a whiff of items that have a distinctive scent, such as peppermint and cinnamon, first thing in the morning.
  • Reverse it Do the sniffing exercise twice daily and have your doc check you for nasal inflammation or growths that may be blocking aromas, but can be treated.

The sense slip: Dulled taste Tongue taste sensors start to be noticeably less effective around age 65, with sour and bitter often the first flavors to fade.

  • Prevent it Practicing good oral hygiene will help keep your tongue in top condition. It’ll also protect your tastebuds from potentially damaging infections.
  • Reverse it Unfortunately, there’s little you can do to reclaim taste lost because of aging. But you can make up for it by adding more orstronger spices and flavorings to your food—just be sure to limit sugar and salt. Doty suggests adding salsa to dishes for a healthy and flavorful punch.

The sense slip: Dry mouth An estimated 400-plus drugs, including common heart disease medications such as beta-blockers, can cause dry mouth, promoting tooth decay and affecting how things taste.

  • Prevent it Curb your intake of dehydrating caffeine and alcohol, and run a humidifier while you sleep to moisten the air you breathe. “But the best thing you can do is avoid the need for medications later by living the healthiest lifestyle you can now,” Doty says.
  • Reverse it On meds? Talk to your doctor about reducing your dosage or switching prescriptions. If you can’t make the change, you may be able to take Salagen or Evoxac, drugs that can help stimulate saliva. Chewing gum or adding lemon juice to water can also help.

Hear Better Than Ever

The sense slip: Gradual hearing loss You may begin to notice this condition, called presbycusis, in your 40s. Past exposure to loud noises or changes in your blood supply because of heart disease or side effects ofdiabetes may have damaged the sound-detecting cells in the inner ear. As a result, higher-pitched voices become harder to hear, and distinguishing speech against background noise becomes difficult.

  • Prevent it Don’t smoke; it can damage blood vessels in the ear. In addition, wear earmuffs or earplugs when mowing the lawn, attending concerts, and when exposed to sound over 85 decibels for an extended period of time (normal speech is 65). And if you listen to your iPod for 90 minutes a day, you should keep the volume at 80% or lower, according to a new study from the University of Colorado and Children’s Hospital Boston. Listening longer? Go for 50% volume.
  • Reverse it Talk to a doctor about being fit with a hearing aid.

Give Your Touch a Touch-Up

The sense slip: Loss of sensation You’ll likely lose slight sensitivity as your skin becomes less elastic, starting in your 50s. There’s even evidence that the number of touch receptors in our skin decreases with age. Plus, certain meds, like the blood pressure med Cardene, can on rare occasion dull sensation.

  • Prevent it A heart-healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a low-fat diet, and shunning cigarettes will help keep the nerve fibers in your skin well oxygenated and responsive. Loading up on niacin- and B12-rich foods, such as dairy, poultry, and fish, will also help you hold onto sensation.
  • Reverse it Once nerve cells die, they can’t be regenerated. However, taking aspirin can dilate blood vessels and improve circulation, which will increase stimulation of the dermis, or innermost layer of skin. Check with your doc to see if any meds you’re on could be causing loss of sensation.

Sensory emergency

Age-related sensory losses occur gradually. If you experience a rapid decline, see your doctor right away.

An abrupt change in…Smell Could mean: A brain trauma

An abrupt change in…Sensation Could mean: Serious nerve damage or stroke

An abrupt change in…Vision Could mean: A blood clot in the brain or retina