One of the truly fun things about getting older (NOT!) is adjusting to the changes in our senses. As our bodies age, so do our abilities to use our senses to their fullest. I am hard of hearing, and have been all my life. I have learned to make the adjustments required to function with minimal hearing. Or, rather, I have learned to be honest about my disability, and let people know I am “hearing disabled” so that they will speak clearly and that they will look at me when trying to have a conversation with me.
During my life, my eyesight has been a great compensator for the hearing loss. I read lips with ease, and can use that skill for context clues; discovering the gist of a conversation by lip reading and following most of the words in any discussion. But time is curtailing that talent, in that my eyesight is worsening. With Sjogren’s Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes, my eyes just don’t function as well as they used to. I wear bi-focals, but I find that I am limiting the group conversations these days, preferring instead to talk to one or two people at a time.It’s okay, though, because I prefer intimate chats to loud parties!
My sense of touch seems to be fairly functional still – but my buddy Arthur (aka arthritis) has made my hands have to work a bit harder to utilize that sense, especially when doing crafts and crocheting. In some ways though, it seems even more sensitive than it used to be – the lightest touch on my arm or head will get my attention – whether it is a bug, a dog or a husband! Perhaps that is because part of aging is a degree of awareness about our lives, the time that has passed, and the time that is left. Our surface skin is thinner, and our need for touch as a method of interaction seems greater.
I have what has been kindly referred to as the “Strathman Nose.” I think it is a nice nose, but it is longish, and defined. Yup. It’s a nose. And it does it’s smelling job just fine. At least as far as I can tell, my sense of smell is as it always was. But, again, the Sjogren’s, which causes dry mouth as well as dry eyes, may be affecting things in a minimal way. The sense if smell is an important one, to me. I gain great pleasure from going up in the mountains (as we did on Saturday) and smelling the pines, and the higher elevation seems to be laden with aromas that I don’t sense at lower elevations. And, to be honest, sense of smell is a danger-sensor too; leaking gas, or a dog tangling with a skunk, necessary warning signs!
And then there is the one I like the best; the sense of Taste! I have a rather peculiar one, I think, considering, once again, the Sjogren’s affect. I love things like blue cheese, salty things, herbs like rosemary and taragon.I don’t like tart things too much (although a margarita with a glass rim well salted is divine!) and bitter flavors need to be offset for me with something sweet. With the dry mouth comes swallowing difficulties, but that is something one can plan for, and not stuff a whole brownie in one’s mouth at once!
The name of the game for Savoring your Senses in your Senior Years is ADAPTATION. You don’t hear so well anymore? Let people know, adjust how you approach people, how you converse, and change to texting instead of talking on the phone. Turn on the closed captioning on your TV, so you don’t blast the rest of the world to smithereens. Learn to rely on email for long communications. That’s what I do. Or, heavens forfend, go back to letter writing. The post office will love you!
Your eyes are affecting your ability to read? Try large print books. Or, if your ears are still functioning fairly well, try books on tape/CD. Your eyesight affecting your driving skills? Try to do all your driving in the daytime hours. Learn to use a magnifying glass for reading recipes or newspapers. Crank your computer screen to BIG FONT. I do that in my emails, both for my ease and for the comfort of my sisters and other older folk I communicate with.
Your skin is becoming sensitive? Or you are feeling as if you are losing that sense of feeling? Use dry skin creams meant for aging skin. Cultivate hugging and touching as a social skill! Did you know that seniors are less likely to hug, kiss or caress one another? This isn’t about sex, folks, although a bit of that never hurts either! This is about remembering your connection to others, by using your sense of touch. No grabsies, no groping, no cheek-pinching… but a touch someone’s arm when you are talking, when shaking hands, place your opposite hand over the top of theirs, briefly. Connect!
If your taste buds are affecting your ability to enjoy your favorites – then experiment! Find a new taste, a new texture that wakes up whatever taste buds remain. Don’t settle for bland pap! And if your sense of smell is wonky, then learn to be extra careful using gas in your home; switch to all electric! Find what good smells your nose still appreciates and cultivate them – grow flowers and herbs in your garden, and using your sense of touch (!!) crush a leaf of rosemary or lavender as you pass by, or keep roses on your bedside table to waft you to sweet-smelling sleep.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953)