Study finds “global” sensory loss to be an indicator of overall declining health, increased risk of death
02/14/2019 // Rita Winters // Views

Many of us think that aging is a bit intimidating, especially since death would come soon. We often wonder how long we would last in our physical forms and ponder if there are any symptoms or signs as to when death would come for us. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society describes the loss of sensory functions as a sign of poor health and impending death. The University of Chicago (UC) study led by Dr. Jayant Pinto, professor of surgery, found that adults with “global” sensory impairment tend to move slower and had greater difficulty in doing daily tasks or activities.

The new study, which associates the loss of all five senses to ill-health and death, was based on a previous study from 2014 which found that the loss of function of the olfactory system limits the life span of pensioners to just five years. The new study is included in the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP) which is a national probability sample of 3,005 older adults in the U.S. who live by themselves.

Researchers gathered participants' data including demographics, education level, drug use, alcohol use, and weight. They also analyzed if the loss of function of the senses were due to aging or environmental factors, such as exposure to loud sounds in relation to poor hearing. Co-author of the study Dr. David Kern states that the new study clarifies that no one sense is responsible for the health conditions that later occur.

After five years of follow-ups, the researchers found that older adults with global sensory impairment walked slower, had fewer day time activities, had greater difficulty in performing daily life activities that included instruments that needed motor skills, had lower cognition, worse self-reported physical health, and an increased rate of death. The research team is looking towards the 10-year data of over 3,000 people – this will allow them to contrast the effects of global sensory impairment from five years to 10 years, all the while replicating the current findings. If the effects of global sensory impairment after 10 years are stronger, then they would conclude that loss of sensory functions predict eventual health declines in older adults.

The problem, however, is that people have bad judgment on how well-functioning their senses are. On the other hand, there are available free-to-use websites and downloadable smartphone applications that can help distinguish the current status of their sensory functions. The study does not indicate if there are any preventive measures to take in order for senses to remain functional, and no treatments have been mentioned regarding the loss of the functions as well. (Related: Researchers find just 7 minutes of exercise a day can prevent loss of mobility in the elderly.)

While it may be too late for older adults to take preventive measures for sensory health, these pensioners can still help themselves by engaging in healthy lifestyles – consuming natural, healthy food that support the eye, ear, nose, mouth, and skin, as well as participate in physical activities and mentally-challenging tasks that keep their cognition sharp. Sensory damage can be prevented with rational measures such as avoiding eye strain for eye health, avoid smoking to keep the mouth healthy, and what not.

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