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