Technology aids in loss of our senses

Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and eldercare

The gradual process of aging wreaks a little havoc on the functioning of our senses, often leaving us significantly reduced in sensory skills without us realizing it.

Although it is most true in the areas of sight and hearing, it can also affect our ability to feel, smell and taste, reducing our quality of life in tiny increments.  After all, it is our senses that pick up all of the cues of our environment and make our experiences rich in context.

It is not uncommon for the elderly to underestimate how serious their sensory losses have become. With changes coming gradually, their brains adjust to a new reality and their memory of full ranges of sensory experiences diminishes. In other words, they may not even realize how much they have lost.

Vision is often the earliest sense that is stressed and it becomes obvious, quickly, when one can’t see close up, far away or both. A vision test and a set of eyeglasses can often be completed in a couple of days and, for most people, it is taken care of easily and restored to a full spectrum.

Hearing is a bit more complicated. Since noise is often a ‘background’ experience, the loss of some ranges of hearing can actually feel like a blessing. It’s a simple fix to turn up the volume a bit on electronics and, unconsciously, we all tend to read lips a bit and just get better at it when every word is not clear.

Still, there comes a time when certain ranges of sound are so limited that certain words are missed, certain people’s voices become unintelligible and no level of volume helps with clarity. At this point, it’s important to consider some hearing assistance devices.

Some people fear the concept of hearing aids, but there are a variety of options. A great place to start in getting free advice about the options and steps necessary is to call The Canadian Hearing Society, which offers free counseling.

Interestingly enough, restoration of hearing is not as easily achieved as sight, nor is the adaptation to better hearing as rapid.

After decades of hearing loss, the return of a wider and higher range of sounds can actually make the world an uncomfortable place. It can take months for the brain to adapt to the additional sounds, and it is not unusual for some people to take uncomfortable hearing aids in and out, thus prolonging the adjustment period.

With patience, the enjoyment of music, conversation, and chirping birds will return without the risk of damaging hearing further through increasing volumes of sound.

Smell, taste and touch are much more complicated to address.

As a general rule, they are affected by changes in the nervous system, which make them difficult to treat.

While you can find plenty of vision and hearing vendors around, you’ll have to do a lot more legwork to come up with those who can help with the latter three senses.

Although the medical community does not have exclusive methods for remediation in these areas, the family physician is certainly a good place to start in searching for support.

Aging may not be kind to our natural ability to have rich interactions with the world around us, but technology can certainly ensure that any losses are minimal. It’s a good idea for the elderly to have regular examinations to evaluate their sensory conditions and to take necessary steps to correct any shortcomings.

Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and eldercare. Email him at

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