Aging Changes in the Senses: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia (2023)

As you age, the way your senses (hearing, sight, taste, smell, touch) give you information about the world changes. Your senses become less keen, which can make it difficult for you to pick out details.

Sensory changes can affect your lifestyle. You may have problems communicating, enjoying activities, and interacting with people. Sensory changes can lead to isolation.

Your senses receive information from your environment. This information can be in the form of sounds, lights, smells, tastes and touch. Sensory information is converted into nerve signals that are sent to the brain. There, the signals are converted into meaningful sensations.

Some stimulation is required before you become aware of a sensation. This minimum level of sensation is called the threshold. Aging increases this threshold. You need more stimulation to become aware of the sensation.

Aging can affect all of the senses, but hearing and vision are usually the most affected. Devices such as glasses and hearing aids or lifestyle changes can improve your hearing and vision.


Your ears have two jobs. One hears, the other balances. Hearing occurs after sound vibrations cross the eardrum to the inner ear. The vibrations are converted into nerve signals in the inner ear and sent to the brain via the auditory nerve.

Aging Changes in the Senses: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia (1)Watch this video:hearing and cochlea

Equilibrium (equilibrium) is controlled in the inner ear. Fluid and hairs in the inner ear stimulate the auditory nerve. This helps the brain keep its balance.

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With increasing age, the structures in the ear begin to change and their functions decrease. Your ability to pick up sounds decreases. You may also have trouble keeping your balance when sitting, standing, and walking.

Age-related hearing loss is calledPresbyakusis. It affects both ears. Hearing, usually the ability to hear high-frequency sounds, may decrease. You may also have trouble telling the difference between certain sounds. Or you may have trouble understanding a conversation when there is background noise. If you have hearing problems, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. One way to manage hearing loss is by fitting hearing aids.

Persistent, abnormal ringing in the ears (ringing in ears) is another common problem in older adults. Tinnitus can be caused by buildup of earwax, medications that damage structures in the ear, or mild hearing loss. If you have tinnitus, ask your provider how to manage the condition.

Affectedearwaxcan also lead to hearing problems and is common with age. Your doctor can remove affected earwax.


Vision occurs when light is processed by your eye and interpreted by your brain. Light penetrates the transparent surface of the eye (cornea). It continues through the pupil, the opening to the inside of the eye. The pupil enlarges or shrinks to control the amount of light entering the eye. The colored part of the eye is called theIris. It's a muscle that controls pupil size. After the light has passed your pupil, it reaches the lens. The lens focuses the light on youRetina(the fundus of the eye). The retina converts light energy into a nerve signal, which the optic nerve carries to the brain, where it is interpreted.

Aging Changes in the Senses: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia (2)Watch this video:See

All eye structures change with age. The cornea becomes less sensitive, so you may not notice eye injuries. By the time you turn 60, your pupils can shrink to about a third of the size they were when you were 20. The pupils may react more slowly to darkness or bright light. The lens becomes yellowed, less flexible and slightly cloudy. The pads of fat that support the eyes decrease and the eyes sink into their sockets. The eye muscles are less able to fully rotate the eye.

As you age, your eyesight decreases in sharpness (visual acuity) gradually decreases. The most common problem is the difficulty in focusing the eyes on close objects. This state is calledPresbyopie. Reading glasses, bifocals, or contact lenses can help correct presbyopia.

They may be less tolerant of glare. For example, glare from a shiny floor in a sun-drenched room can make it difficult to get around indoors. You may have trouble adjusting to darkness or bright light. Problems with glare, brightness and darkness can make you give up driving at night.

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With age, it becomes harder to tell blue from green than red from yellow. Using warm, contrasting colors (yellow, orange, and red) in your home can improve your vision. A red light in a darkened room, such as the hallway or bathroom, makes things easier to see than using a regular night light.

With aging, the gel-like substance (vitreous) inside your eye starts to shrink. This can create small particles called floaters in your field of vision. In most cases, floaters do not reduce your vision. But if you develop floaters suddenly or have a rapid increase in the number of floaters, you should have your eyes checked by a professional.

ReducedperipheralVision (side vision) is common in older people. This can limit your activity and ability to interact with others. It can be difficult to communicate with people sitting next to you because you can't see them well. Driving can be dangerous.

Weak eye muscles can prevent you from moving your eyes in all directions. It can be difficult to look up. The area in which objects can be seen (field of view) gets smaller.

Aging eyes also can't produce enough tears. This leads to dry eyes, which can be uncomfortable. If dry eyes are not treated, infection, inflammation and scarring of the cornea can occur. You can relieve dry eyes by using eye drops or artificial tears.

Common eye conditions that do NOT cause normal vision problems are:

  • Cataract- Clouding of the lens of the eye
  • Glaucoma- Increase in fluid pressure in the eye
  • macular degeneration-- Disease in the macula (responsible for central vision) causing vision loss
  • Retinopathy-- Diseases of the retina, often caused by diabetes or high blood pressure

If you have vision problems, discuss your symptoms with your provider.


Taste and smell work together. Most tastes are associated with smells. The sense of smell begins at the nerve endings high up in the nasal mucosa.

They have about 10,000 taste buds. Your taste buds perceive sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami flavors. Umami is a flavor associated with foods that contain glutamate, like the spice monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Aging Changes in the Senses: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia (3)Watch this video:tasting

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Smell and taste play a role in the enjoyment and safety of food. A delicious meal or a pleasant aroma can enhance social interaction and enjoyment of life. Smell and taste also allow you to identify hazards such as spoiled food, gases and smoke.

With age, the number of taste buds decreases. Any remaining taste buds will also begin to shrink. Sensitivity to the five tastes often diminishes after the age of 60. Also, as you age, your mouth produces less saliva. This can lead to dry mouth, which can affect your sense of taste.

Your sense of smell may also decrease, especially after the age of 70. This can be related to a loss of nerve endings and less mucus production in the nose. Mucus helps smells stay in the nose long enough for nerve endings to detect them. It also helps remove odors from nerve endings.

Certain things can accelerate the loss of taste and smell. These include illness, smoking and exposure to harmful particles in the air.

Decreased taste and smellcan decrease your interest and enjoyment of food. You may not be able to identify certain hazards if you cannot smell odors such as natural gas or fire smoke.

If your sense of taste and smell has decreased, talk to your doctor. The following may help:

  • Switch to a different medicine if the medicine you are taking affects your ability to smell and taste.
  • Use different spices or change the way you cook food.
  • Buy security products such as B. a gas detector that sets off an alarm that you can hear.


The sense of touch alerts you to pain, temperature, pressure, vibration and body position. Skin, muscles, tendons, joints, and internal organs have nerve endings (receptors) that sense these sensations. Some receptors give the brain information about the location and condition of internal organs. Although you may not be aware of this information, it helps to identify changes (egAppendicitis).

Your brain interprets the type and amount of touch sensation. It also interprets the feeling as comfortable (e.g., comfortably warm), uncomfortable (e.g., very hot), or neutral (e.g., being aware of touching something).

Aging Changes in the Senses: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia (4)Watch this video:feel pain

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With age, sensations may be reduced or altered. These changes can occur because of decreased blood flow to nerve endings or the spinal cord or brain. The spinal cord transmits nerve signals and the brain interprets those signals.

Health problems, such as a lack of certain nutrients, can also lead to sensory disturbances. Brain surgery, brain problems, confusion, and nerve damage from injury or long-term (chronic) illnesses like diabetes can also cause sensory disturbances.

Symptoms of altered sensation vary depending on the cause. With reduced sensitivity to temperature, it can be difficult to tell the difference between cool and cold and hot and warm. This can increase the risk of injuryfrostbite,hypothermia(dangerously low body temperature) andburns.

A reduced ability to detect vibration, touch, and pressure increases the risk of injury, includingpressure sores(Skin sores caused when pressure cuts off the blood supply to the area). After the age of 50, many people have reduced sensitivity to pain. Or you feel and recognize pain, but it doesn't bother you. For example, if you're injured, you may not know how serious the injury is because the pain doesn't bother you.

You may have trouble walking because you are less aware of where your body is in relation to the ground. This increases your risk of falling, a common problem for older people.

Older people may be more sensitive to light touch because their skin is thinner.

If you notice changes in touch, pain, or trouble standing or walking, talk to your doctor. There may be ways to treat the symptoms.

The following measures can help you stay safe:

  • Do not lower the water heater temperature to more than 49°C (120°F) to avoid burns.
  • Check the thermometer to help you decide how to dress instead of waiting until you overheat or freeze.
  • Check your skin, especially your feet, for injuries. If you find an injury, treat it. DO NOT assume the injury is not serious since the area is not painful.


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As you get older you will have other changes including:

  • In organs, tissues and cells
  • In the skin
  • In the bones, muscles and joints
  • In the face
  • In the nervous system


1. The Biology of Aging
(Science in Motion)
2. Basic Health Reference and MedlinePlus
(South Central Regional Library Council)
3. Why have I lost my sense of smell and taste ? |FAQS on Health
4. SCR Teaching Webinar - Healthy Aging (January 31, 2019)
(Network of the National Library of Medicine [NNLM])
5. DigitalU: Health and Wellness Resources
(Washington State Library)
6. Healthy Aging | Midday at the Oasis (Nov. 15, 2017)
(Network of the National Library of Medicine [NNLM])
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