Loss is All a Part of Aging
By Elizabeth Sukys-Rice, MSW
Changes in sensation and perception are inevitable within the aging body. Loss will be a challenge, but there is much we can do…
The idea of living to be over 100 years old is more of a reality today than in any other time in human existence. Medical advances in treating disease have given way to the possibility of living longer, and with fewer health problems. Getting older is not easy, especially with the diminishment of the senses and perception. As we age, the organs do not function as well as they once did. The same happens with our visual processes, hearing, smell, touch and taste. The reduction of sensitivity in these areas can cause many other issues as we age. Fall risks are increased, which usually results in additional physical problems. Lack of taste can lead to dissatisfaction with food, followed by weight loss. Isolation and depression may result from hearing impairment, general weakness, fatigue, incontinence, or any number of other factors.
Our vision is responsible for several aspects of perceiving our environment. We recognize objects with light, color, spatial clues, motion and much more. Beyond age 60, changes that occur affect our ability to use visual clues. The changes can be related to the normal aging process, or they can happen through some age-related disease, such as macular degeneration. The visual system deteriorates and seemingly simple tasks such as shopping, using the phone, meal preparation, handling money or enjoying hobbies, can become impossible.
“A Basis for Depression and Other Health Risks”
The leading cause of blindness in the Western world exists in the 60-plus population. The fovea, which is positioned in the center part of the retina, has the highest concentration of cones. In age-related macular degeneration, parts of these cones are destroyed. In addition to AMD, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts affect one out of three people over the age of 65. These types of vision losses can result in loss of mobility and function in the aging adult. Disruptive behavior among nursing home residents is sometimes linked to vision impairment. Depression can also be closely related to vision impairment.
Many risks are associated with visual deterioration in the older adult. A person with vision impairments is less likely to groom him or her self properly, and could develop additional illnesses as a result. It might be difficult to get around at home or to drive to the store or to medical appointments. Preparing meals or doing simple chores around the house could become complicated. As things worsen, a person could develop mental health illnesses such as anxiety, stress, paranoia and/or failure to thrive. Anger and frustration might also come with vision loss. A person might appear to be confused or resistant when presented with new situations or tasks.