KEEP YOUR VISION AND HEARING SHARP
As we age, it is common to experience vision and hearing loss. However, older adults should know the difference between changes that are normal and those that are not.
Good vision and hearing are connected to brain health. Three possible causal processes have been identified:
• Cognitive load, when you can see or hear well. The brain is receiving clear signals and is not forced to work harder to derive meaning from the message.
• Individuals who are socially engaged enjoy cognitive stimulation. People with vision and hearing problems are more likely to become isolated.
• Hearing and seeing well helps avoid brain shrinkage, mostly of the hearing portion of the brain, which also is involved in functions like memory, learning and thinking.
What you can do to protect your vision
Vision changes common with the natural aging of the eye include difficulty seeing objects clearly, even close up; a decline in colour sensitivity, such as being able to distinguish colours such as blue from black; and the need for more light when reading. Often these can be corrected with a new prescription for glasses or improved lighting. These changes should be distinguished from the common eye diseases and conditions that affect older adults which include age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataract, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and dry eye.
Is hearing loss an issue for me?
Lifetime investing in good hearing can be achieved by lowering the volume and turning off music when not actively listening. Wearing hearing protection when using power tools or travelling on subways and trains is also helpful. Playing a musical instrument throughout adulthood can help maintain listening skills, including understanding what a person is saying in noisy environments.
Hearing loss includes difficulty understanding speech, especially if the speech is distorted or embedded in noise; problems related to localizing sound; being able to hear with both ears; and increased sensitivity to loudness. Presbycusis, or normal age-related hearing loss, worsens slowly, affects both ears, but usually only results in difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds.
Hearing loss is due to three causes:
• Degeneration of the cochlea or inner ear, called peripheral hearing loss.
• Central hearing loss due to brain disease, occurring much less frequently.
• Conductive hearing loss in the middle and outer ear, which is the most common type of hearing loss. This can occur due to extreme wax build-up.
If your hearing quality has already decreased, you can work on becoming a more effective communicator by taking charge of your communication assertively. Ways to achieve this involve asking people to get your attention before speaking to you, suggesting that they face you, and asking them not to shout. Other techniques include learning to use strategies for handling communication breakdowns, such as knowing when to ask for a ‘rephrase’ instead of a ‘repeat,’ and how to apply a clarification strategy. Put simply, learn how to ask questions.
Who can support me?
You and your family can work together to make vision and hearing easier. Telling your family and friends that you are experiencing vision or hearing loss will allow these people to support you better. If you have poor vision, ask your friends and family to ensure good lighting in the places where you meet. If you have poor hearing, ask your friends and family to face you when they talk to you so you can see their faces. You can also ask people to speak more clearly and loudly, but not shout. Eliminating other background noises around you can also make it easier to hear people speaking to you. Working together to see or hear better may be tough on everyone for a while, but is worth the effort.
There is more useful information in our book Increase Your Brainability and Reduce your Risk of Dementia