Do all five senses tend to decline with age?
Yes. While there is considerable individual variation, on average sensory processes (vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch) don't work as well as people get older. Another way to say it is that the threshold at which we take in stimuli increases with age. The eye lens, for example, is less able to change shape so as to adjust to close and far objects, and the size of the pupil narrows so as to let in less light. Hearing loss begins at age 20, and for many involves growing inability to hear higher frequencies as sensory receptors in the ear and nerve cells in the auditory pathway to the brain are lost. Taste buds become less sensitive with aging, and after age 80 more than 75 percent of older adults show major impairment in their sense of smell. Many of these normal changes can be compensated for through increasingly sophisticated assistive devices (hearing aides, glasses, etc.) and through modifications of the older person's environment.
Linda Breytspraak, Center on Aging Studies, University of Missouri-Kansas City
Last update: Sunday, July 06, 2008