It Makes Sense

In-home care supports the safety and independence of clients who are living with sensory impairment.

Sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell … our senses work together to provide us with information about the world around us and to connect us with others. But with age, our senses diminish. Some sensory loss results from the normal changes of aging. Some is caused by health problems that become more common as we grow older.

Age-related sensory changes include…

Vision. As we grow older, normal changes in the eye make our vision less sharp. Common eye conditions such as macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy cause partial or total loss of sight for millions of seniors.

Hearing. Age-related changes in the structure of our ears make it harder to tell certain sounds apart and to hear higher-pitched sounds. Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and inner ear-related balance problems also are common.

Touch. As we grow older, decreased blood flow to the nerve endings, spinal cord or brain may result in decreased sensation of pain, temperature, pressure and texture.

Taste and smell. These two senses work together, providing information about things we eat and substances in the air around us. The number of taste buds on our tongue decreases with age, as do the number of odor-detecting nerve endings in our nose. Various health disorders also can diminish taste and smell.

Can We Prevent Sensory Decline?

In some cases, we can prevent or slow the decline of the senses with certain lifestyle choices, such as good nutrition, getting enough exercise, protecting against eye injuries and loud noise, and controlling health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

And it's important to know that some types of sensory loss can actually be reversed or halted, such as cataracts, glaucoma, wax in the ears or chronic upper respiratory illness.

But much sensory loss is unavoidable—even inevitable, if we live long enough. The goal then is to compensate for our limitations. Fortunately, ever-improving technology is available to help. People who are living with vision loss now have access to everything from eyeglasses and magnifiers to audible street-crossing signals and enhanced reading devices, with even more impressive technologies on the horizon. People with hearing loss can take advantage of newer hearing aid technology, closed captioning, and hearing loops for live performances. People with diminished sense of smell can make their homes safer with smoke and gas alarms.

In-Home Care Preserves Independence

Even if they take advantage of technological assistance, many seniors find themselves becoming increasingly isolated as the senses diminish. Living at home is more difficult. They may be dealing with other health challenges, such as arthritis or memory loss. Family members step up to help, but they may not have the time or expertise to assist their loved ones effectively. For many families, professional in-home care services help senior loved ones "live around" sensory loss. In-home care promotes independence, health and safety in several important ways:

Housekeeping. Something as minor as a footstool out of place, an open kitchen cabinet or a crumpled throw rug can put a senior with low vision in danger of a debilitating fall. A person with decreased sense of smell may be less aware of unsanitary conditions. In-home caregivers keep the house tidy and in good order, taking over household tasks such as laundry and vacuuming that might be difficult for clients.

Personal care. Sensory loss, such as low vision or the inability to sense water temperature, makes personal hygiene more challenging. In-home caregivers provide sensitive assistance with bathing, grooming, dressing and going to the toilet, always with the goal of preserving the client's dignity.

Companionship. Sensory impairment tempts many seniors to withdraw from the outside world. Professional in-home caregivers take steps to assist and communicate in the way that's best for a client's needs. Caregivers provide transportation and assistance so clients can continue to enjoy outings. They read to clients, help with crossword puzzles and other brain games, and provide an extra measure of confidence for remaining active.

Meal preparation. Good nutrition may help slow the progression of hearing loss, diabetes-related sensory loss and certain types of vision problems, such as age-related macular degeneration. Yet diminished senses may stand in the way of eating well. In-home caregivers can go to the grocery store and prepare nutritious foods that the client enjoys. They can use herbs and seasonings to heighten the taste of foods for clients with reduced sense of taste and smell. Just having another person around also helps perk up the appetite.

Healthcare support. Working with clients and families, in-home care agencies create a care plan and help coordinate clients' healthcare appointments. Caregivers transport clients to the doctor, pharmacy and other health-related errands. They can provide medication reminders, supervision during exercise, and support as clients follow the healthcare provider's recommendations for using adaptive technologies.

Sensory loss doesn't mean the end of a full, rich life. It takes some effort, but by finding the right combination of support—from high-tech assistive devices to the human touch provided by a professional caregiver—seniors with sensory challenges can stay safe, connected and engaged.

Learn More

NIH SeniorHealth offers a set of online brochures and videos that explain the sensory changes of aging: low vision, hearing loss, and problems with smell and taste.

For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.