Touch

Touch

man person people hand
Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

The thought of touch brings the hands and fingers to my mind. I remember in a writing class I once took where the instructor had us put our hand into a paper bag and feel what was inside it without looking at the contents. We were then to write what that sense of touch felt like. It was cool, silky soft, loose and yet it felt as if it glided off my fingers or maybe it was flowing. It was kind of hard to tell. My mind said it couldn’t be liquid because it was in a paper bag so whatever it was felt like smooth water running through my fingers. It turned out to be flour. The experiment wasn’t meant to test if your senses were working right. It was a practice on how to use the senses to help the reader feel what you’re trying to portray through your writing. Now as I get older describing what something feels like to the touch is not much clearer to me than my lack of hearing can often describe. So, I have to depend a lot on my memory for that in my writing.

But the body itself from the inside out responds to touch beginning at the skin level than beneath that to the nerve endings that send a signal to the brain. All we have to do is look at our skin how it’s thinning, less taut and the lack of elasticity plays a big part in how we once determined our sense of touch. This loss occurs immediately below the skin where there is less fat protection and decreased numbers of nerve endings. All this contributes to the inability to detect pain to a certain degree. One of the things I’ve noticed is that I bruise easier. I don’t even remember hitting anything that hard to create a bruise only proving that my own lack of sensitivity to pain has decreased. Another thing to take into consideration is that we don’t always realize that the heating pad we’re using is too hot or the shower water. Lowering the temperature to 120 degrees F is recommended.

As with all the sense there is some loss but many other factors can play into it as well such as poor blood circulation, diabetes or other diseases, neurological disorders and certain mental illnesses, and of course certain drugs and medical treatments. Sometimes we suffer with things that  we don’t have to. If we just discuss what we’re feeling with our doctors maybe a few changes could help.

Finally, there is one other kind of touch that older people often don’t get enough of, it’s called “touch hunger.” I often hear friends who have lost a loved one mention that what they miss most is being hugged, embraced and touched. Often too there’s a feeling that comes with age as if you are disappearing in the background of life. Maybe people think we are too fragile to hug, pat on the back or squeeze our hand, yet the simplest of touches can remind us that we are still alive and we do matter in this life. This is were having a furry friend can be very helpful too. There’s nothing like having the unconditional love of a pet.

“Taste”

Norman Rockwell thanksgivingPhoto by Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

Taste or smell, which came first the turkey or the egg? In my last post I talked about how the two senses smell and taste seemed to go hand in hand. I can’t even write about one without mentioning the other. But they are two distant senses that have a purpose all their own.

Speaking of turkey, dose it get any better than a Norman Rockwell painting to depict a mouth watering meal? I don’t know about you, but when I smell that turkey in the oven getting golden brown my mouth begins to water with the goodness of the flavors yet to touch my tongue. That’s a good thing for us older folks because as we age, we produce less saliva, sometimes creating a dry mouth which reduces our sense of taste. So, which one comes first? Smell, because you can’t taste without it, and if we can’t taste we lose the enjoyment of eating. That’s not a good thing because we all know we need to eat to survive.

Here’s how it works.

We have about 9000 taste buds on the tongue. These taste buds sense only 4 basic flavors: bitter, sour salty and sweet. But something magical happens when those senses roll around on all those taste buds creating a combination of savory flavors. As we age our taste buds begin to shrink and we produces less saliva. This happens very slowly over time. By the age of 30 we have 245 taste buds on that one tiny elevation alone. That’s amazing. But, by age of 70, that number decreases to approximately 88. One article said that sweet and salty taste are the first affected, while another article said it was salty and sour taste that go first. One of the signs that we’re losing our sense of taste is by adding more salt to our food or sugar to enhance it. Too much salt can affect our blood pressure and too much sugar can add unwanted pounds. There is one plus to not being able to taste the full flavor of food and that is that it opens up a door to some of the strong-tasting-veggies we couldn’t stand in our younger years. I know I find myself enjoying the healthier veggies such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and peppers just to name a few. These are some of the most nutritious heart and brain health foods we can eat at our age.

What’s interesting is that the sense of taste appears not to decline as much from aging as it does from other factors such as smoking, poor oral hygiene, dentures rubbing on the tongue. Certain medical conditions such as diabetes and cancers as well as their treatment can affect the taste buds. There are some things we can do lessen the decline of our taste and asking our doctor for help is the first place to start.

With all this in mind I find myself reflecting back to my own parents. While they were divorced and no longer lived together the one thing most people would remember about them was how much they enjoyed eating. In the last few years of my Mom’s life I think eating was probable the only thing she really looked forward to each day. She died when she was in her 70’s. My Dad on the other hand died at the age of 79. On that particular day his wife couldn’t stop thinking of how much he was raving over his lunch. The grapes were exceptionally sweet, his turkey sandwich had such rich flavors and the dessert his wife had brought home he was going to savor it a little later in the day. She said he must have eating it right before he died maybe about an hour after she went back to work. He had a heart attack and passed away quickly. It was almost as if his body knew it would be his last supper and all his senses were enhanced somehow. This makes me think that maybe because the loss of taste happens so slowly over time that we don’t really notice it the way we do other more obvious senses like our sight. However, when we do loss it for whatever reason we truly do loss the enjoyment of eating.

 

 

[1] Aging changes in the senses

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004013.htm

 

[2] Making Sense of Sensory Losses as We Age

For more information see www.ag.ndsu.edu

 

Vision Changes in Our Senior Years

Vision-Changes-to-Watch-Out-for-as-You-Grow-Older-300x266I always had perfect vision. I remember when my Mom started asking me to thread the needle on her sewing machine because she couldn’t see right to do it anymore. Now I have my grandkids do the same thing for me. My sister and brother started wearing glasses when they turned 40. I couldn’t imagine myself ever needing them, but 40 seemed to be the magic number for me too. What I found out through my research is that most of us develops this condition around the age of 40. It’s called Presbyopia. It’s when the normal flexible lens of the eye becomes increasingly rigid and unable to focus on objects close up.

I started off with reading glasses. By the time I was about 45 I started noticing that the signs along the road were starting to get blurry now too. So, I went from reading glasses to bifocals. With my check-up each year I’d only see a slight change, and about every two or three years I’d need a new prescription. When I got in my middle 50’s I started noticing that I was getting night blindness when I’d drive, and if it was raining at night I couldn’t see at all. The doctor said I had cataracts but they weren’t ripe enough to operate on yet. Eventually I had the surgery when I was 63. I was so hoping I wouldn’t have to wear glasses anymore, like many of the people I knew, but I still needed them for distance. I can drive at night without any trouble now though. One of the other conditions I get is dry eyes especially when I’m working on the computer a lot with my writing. Eye drops help that. These are all the typical eye disorders that come with age.

The diseases that can happen are more serious:

  • Age-related macular degeneration-it’s leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 50. It’s caused from damage to the macula area on the retina, and area that makes clearly defined, central vision possible.
  • Glaucoma-is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. It’s caused by an abnormal rise in pressure in the fluid-filled chambers of the eyes, damaging the optic nerve.

This is why it’s so important to have regular eye check-ups.

The other thing that happens is the reduced muscle tone around the eyes. The muscles that support the skin around the eye socket and control the upper and lower eyelids sometimes become so relaxed and weak that they lose their firmness and elasticity. I remember many years ago when I worked as a bank teller. I had this dear older lady who would come to my window. The skin above her eyelids hung so heavy you could barely see her eyes. As she struggles to sign her check I wanted to reach over and hold her eyelids up so she could see what she was doing better. In later years my Dad’s eyes got the same way, not as bad but bad enough that he was starting to have more trouble seeing. His ophthalmologists sent for an eye tuck, and it was nice to be able to see his deep blue eyes again. I may have to have the same thing done someday. It’s a condition called blepharoptosis or ptosis and along with not being able to see well it causes headache and fatigue.

A good healthy diet, using brighter lights and regular checkups are the ways to stay ahead of some of these disorder and diseases. I’ll leave you some links with more detailed information. That way you can read them at your own convince.

Remember being informed is the best way you can be your own advocate for a health life.

https://www.sharecare.com/health/eye-vision-health/article/aging-eye

pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-2418/T-2140web.pdf

https://www.consultgeri.org/geriatric-topics/sensory-changes

A special note: Due to it being summer and the many commitments I have right now. I will not be posting my blog on a weekly basis anymore. I will still be posting, from time though. I do enjoy sharing with you the things I learn as I search for the answers to my own questions about aging.

Thank you…Connie

Hearing Loss: The “Social Sense”

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Helen Keller said, “I am just as deaf as I am blind. The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus—the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.”

 

Wow! Did you know that out of all the senses hearing loss is said to be the most serious of the sensory impairments? It affects older people more often than any other chronic condition. The changes that take place as we get older begin long before they actually have a noticeable effect on us. We often brush them off as being part of the aging process. I know, because that’s what I did with hearing loss until I began to feel the isolation it was creating in my life. When I read the powerful statement, Helen Keller made about hearing loss, I felt like crying. She put into words what I couldn’t express myself. Not only the impact it has for the hearing impaired, but the importance of the loss, “the most vital stimulus—the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thought alive, and keeps us in the intellectual company of others.” Hearing is our ‘social sense” and it’s what keeps us connected to each other.

So, obviously this is a very passionate subject for me. One of which I wish I’d have researched long before I started writing this article. My hope is that it will help those who are on the cusp of what to do about their own hearing loss.

I have what is called mixed hearing loss meaning that I have a combination of conductive loss and sensorineural loss. The conductive loss creates damage to the outer and middle ear’s ability to conduct sound into the inner ear. The sensorineural loss within the inner ear is damage to auditory nerve that carries the sound to the brain. This second one is actually the most common loss that happens as we age. It’s called “presbycusis. To make things worse for me I also have tinnitus on top of this. It sounds like a loud machine that never stops running. To be honest I never paid much attention to how bad my hearing loss was. I thought it was the typical loss that everyone gets as they get older until I started researching about it.

I fought getting hearing aids in the beginning because I remembered how my Dad complained about them. They only seemed to amplify the background noise making it harder to hear what people were saying. It wasn’t until I found myself feeling left out of conversations because I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. I’d sit there feeling isolated thinking more that it had to do with getting older than it did with not being able to actually communicate. When I finally broke down and bought my first pair I was surprised how sophisticated they’ve became. They’re like cell phones now, they get more hi-tech every year. As a matter fact I was able to connect an app with them on my phone and when people called me I could hear them through the hearing aids. I could also control the volume and settings according to the different place I went, like a restaurant or theater. At some point they stopped working, which meant I’d have to pay $500 to get them fixed or buy a new pair. These cost me $4000 already and I wasn’t about to spend any more money on them. I needed some time to think this through and find a cheaper way to buy them. I went for months without them thinking maybe I could get by without them. Lots of people I knew did that because they refused to pay that kind of money for hearing aids.

I started feeling frustrated, anxious, down and tired all the time. I couldn’t concentrate on the things I wanted to do. I was forgetting things more than usual. I remember saying to my husband somethings wrong, I feel like I’m not cognitively able to do things right. I went to the doctor had some blood test done everything came back normal and I felt even more frustrated because I knew something wasn’t right. I knew my lack of hearing was getting to me, but I didn’t think it had anything to do with why I was having the symptoms I was. I decided that getting my hearing aids fixed was still cheaper than buying a new pair so I took them in for repair.

I didn’t learn the nature of what had been happening to me or how bad my actual hearing loss was until I started doing the research for this article. I was shocked to find that a well-regarded study from John Hopkins University was showing a connection between hearing loss and age-relative cognitive decline that could lead to dementia as well. They kept track of overall cognitive abilities including concentration, memory, and planning skills finding that those with severe hearing loss enough to interfere with conversations were 24 percent more likely than those with normal hearing to see their cognitive abilities diminish. (See the links below for more detailed information.) That’s what I felt was happening to me. Other studies have shown that the potential upside to this is that treating the hearing loss more aggressively could help in hold off the cognitive decline. Another-words getting out those hearing aids you stuffed away in your drawer and putting them to good use. One point I want to make here is that they say, just because you have hearing loss does not mean you’re going to get dementia. It’s just one more factor among the many that can contribute to it. The way I look at it is, if I can do anything to prevent any kind of cognitive decline then I’m going doing it.

I’m hearing much better again since I got my hearing aids fixed. Still at times I can’t make out what one person is saying but can hear others clearly. They say it all has to do with the high pitch sounds of the vowels in words as well as some of the consonants. The words become like swiss cheese where there’s nothing left to them but a bunch of letters that don’t make since. This is why people often think that there’s nothing more wrong with me I simple have selective hearing. Sometimes we’re referred to as a senile elder, confused, cantankerous or maybe just plan stubborn. One women not long ago was trying to tell me something and I couldn’t hear because we were in an auditorium. The background noise was drowning out every word she said. After a while she started mocking me by moving her lips without any sound. She laughed as if I’d think it was funny. Trying to figure out what people are saying sometimes makes me feel like I’m an alien on your own planet.

Hearing loss is the one impairment that doesn’t get much empathy from others mostly because you can’t see it. But often too because people don’t have the patience to stop and help the way they would a blind person trying to cross the street. I know because I was once on the other side of it. My Dad had hearing loss too. I will never forget the time I said impatiently, “never mind it’s not that important.”

“Don’t do that to me,” he said. “I value what you have to say. It’s as important to me to hear it as it is for say it.” When he put it that way it made me realize how insensitive I was being to him, and I tried extra hard after that to make sure he understood me. There are things you can do to help those of us who are hearing impaired.

  • Face us when you’re talking. We’ll never hear you if you’re turned away from us or in another room.
  • Speak distinctly with clarity
  • Enhance your speech like the Italians with expression, but don’t over-exaggerate with lip movement or shout.
  • Give time for a response and don’t take a node of the head as assurance that we’ve heard you right.
  • Don’t talk with your hands over your mouth or any kind of obstruction that prevents us from being able to hear and read your lips at the same time.
  • Eliminate background noise.

In closing, I leave you with this thought: Silence is golden when you choose what you want to hear, but when that choose is taken away by hearing loss the silence becomes a lonely place to exist.

https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-07-2013/hearing-loss-linked-to-dementia.html AARP article on hearing loss

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_linked_to_accelerated_brain_tissue_loss_ John Hopkins study

https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/downloads/2n49t6593   Great link on the sensory changes in later life

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“Our Aging Senses”

Frogs

When I was growing up, I was taught to be mindful of my surrounds to see, hear and speak no evil. My senses were sharp and quick back then. Now that I’ve gotten older I don’t have to put my hands over my eyes and ears, but maybe keeping them over my mouth isn’t such a bad idea. I often don’t hear half of what’s said. That, in turn, tends to distort what I think I see also. What slips out of my mouth is a distortion of my senses.

“What’s that? Did you say, Pat’s getting fat?”

“No! I said that’s a great hat!”

My Dad was an expert in this department, and he would come out with the funniest things he thought he’d heard. He’d have us all laughing and got a kick out it as much as we did. Now I do the same thing. Being able to laugh along with everyone else is a good thing. But it’s not always funny and sometimes even embarrassing. Worst of all it can be quite isolating.

I bring the topic of our 5-senses up because I’ve been hearing a lot of thought-provoking stories on the subject and how it relates to getting older. It is after all our hearing, vision, touch, taste and smell that gives us valuable information about our surroundings. One of the things I learned was that as we age our brains begin to shrink and that in turn makes our senses less sharp. That, in turn, makes it harder for us to detect the critical details that allow us to function socially as well as safe in the world. The more I reached the subject I realized I’d have to break this article up into sections. There is so much information about how each of our senses changes with age that I thought it was worth talking about one at a time.

When I have questions about the changes going on in my own life, I do my research. First, I’m looking to be informed. Second, I’m looking for solutions. If there are none, then I’ll find a way to live with it. It’s all about having the best quality of life and working with what we have. One thing I learned over the years caring for my loved ones was how vital it is to be informed but most of all to be the best advocate we can for ourselves.

So stay tuned, next week I’ll share what I’ve learned about hearing loss.

Through The Eyes of Babes

Have you ever wondered what it is about babies and toddlers that captures our attention?

Of course it’s because they’re so darn cute. But, more than that I’ve discovered that it’s because they remind us of the things we take for granted.

I remember how in awe I was when I watched my own babies discovering life. But I never appreciated it to the extent I could once I became grandparent. I wanted to carry them away to place where they would never lose it. Where the ugliness of life could never enter into the pure joy of life’s discoveries. Now out of 9 my youngest grandchild is 8 and my oldest 26. I wasn’t ready to be a great-grandparent yet. But in becoming one God had a deeper level of pure joy to show me through the eyes of our 14 month old great-grandson Ryder. As he stands in the rain for the first time in his life. With a smile looking up toward the heavens he lifts his arms as if praising God. Opens his mouth to let the rain in while trying to catch the raindrops with his hands at the same time. He jumps, dances, and giggles as he plays in the pouring rain. If I hadn’t been so awe struck I would have joined him myself. But, I am grateful for the reminder to open my own eyes to the things I take for granted. For those are the grace-filled moments when we get a glimpse of heaven on earth.

”On Death and Dying”

My mother-in-law used to say that you start off going to the happy events in life like weddings, baptisms, birthdays, graduations. As the years pass by you find yourself attending more funerals and fewer weddings.

Soon you’re opening the obituary pages before you read the rest of the newspaper wondering who you’ll know this time. She got to the point where her classmates where dropping like flys. You wonder…why are they so obsessed with death?

But one day you find yourself on the other side of it and you begin to understand what you couldn’t in your earlier year’s. How can you not think of it? Death begins to feel as if it’s in your face all the time as parents, siblings, classmates and friends are dying. There’s always the painful few that are too young and unexpected.

Now my kids don’t like hearing their dad and me talk about death and dying same as we were at their age. I was reading that Americans are a death denial culture. We avoid the topic and when we don’t allow ourselves to talk about things we don’t understand it creates more significant fear around it.

There’s not much we can do to change the fact that we’re all going to die someday. Maybe the most important thing about facing this reality comes from the wake-up call it gives us. Like my dad used to say, ”I looked in the obituaries today, and when I didn’t see myself I was reminded I’m still alive.” Once that reality sets in we can actually use what we read to help us reflect and reevaluate our own lives. Am I living my life the best I can, being kind to others, fulfilling my goals, living my purpose, filling my soul with the best experiences I can show it. As long as we’re still breathing we have the opportunity to become better and better at what God created us to be.

We owe it to the people we care about who pass away to live our life to the fullest. Because when we do, they continue to live on in us.

This is dedicated to Kathy McDowell my husbands cousin, Baby Lucas Dicely our great-nephew, Rob Finger and Peggy Anderson our life-long friends who all passed away within the past year.