Our sight and hearing are things we often take for granted throughout our daily lives, however with each passing year we may see changes in these. According to the CDC (1), in American’s over the age of 70, one in six suffers from vision impairment, while one in four suffer from hearing impairment, and often aging American’s are seen to be affected by both. Sensory impairments, also including taste and smell, can have an impact on many aspects of daily living, which in turn can impact one’s ability to provide adequate nourishment for themselves and their overall nutritional status.

Understanding what causes vision and hearing loss can be the first step in identifying risk factors and solutions to prevent additional adverse effects, such as nutritional impacts. Vision loss can be congenital, or from a specific disease, such as diabetes, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. Hearing loss or impairment can be attributed to a variance of issues including trauma, damage to the cochlear nerve, or even age (2). So, what does this mean for aging individuals and their nutritional status?

Decreased vision can lead to many worries. These can include preparing food and snacks, by affecting confidence in cooking skills in the kitchen, by also impairing one’s ability to shop, read food labels and recipes, as well as food prices. Hearing loss may influence one’s desire to eat out or ask questions regarding menus items or food suggestions (4). For those in communities such as in skilled nursing care, food preferences, wants, and needs may not be communicated effectively if individuals are not able to hear options or see what is available to them. Vision difficulties may also impair independent feeding ability as well as the ability to communicate if additional assistance is desired. Other sensory impairment can include taste and smell changes. Together these can also result in a negative impact on a person’s perception of the world, diminish a person’s mode of communication and can lead to social isolation and potential miscommunications (3).  Overall, if the amount, frequency, and nutritional content of food is affected by sensory impairment, vitamin and minerals deficiencies may occur, along with other serious consequences such as weight changes (whether loss or gain), impaired skin integrity, and abnormal lab values.

How can we combat potential pitfalls of decreased sensory acuteness? Understanding and identifying the specific needs of the client can be a first step in effective communication. Once this is understood, health professional can tailor communications to fit their needs. Potential ways to communicate include relaying information to significant others, especially in cases where different languages may come into play, utilizing large print materials or picture boards along with writing information and questions down, reading from printed materials, asking yes/no questions (5) Frequent follow up with clients may also provide additional information on the effectiveness of original materials and communication styles, current nutritional status, and what route is best to be taken next for continued nutrition quality and satisfaction.

 

  • Dillon, Charles, et al. “National Center for Health Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Apr. 2010, www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db31.htm.
  • “Types of Sensory Disabilities | House with No Steps.” Best Apps for People with Disabilities – House with No Steps, 2 July 2018, www.hwns.com.au/about-us/about-disability/types-of-disabilities/types-of-sensory-disabilities/.
  • Rooth, Meredith Anderson. (2017). “The Prevalence and Impact of Vision and Hearing Loss in the Elderly.” North Carolina Medical Journal, 87(2), 118-120. doi: 10.18043/ncm.78.2.118 www.ncmedicaljournal.com/content/78/2/118.full.
  • Clifford, J, and L Bellows. “Nutrition and Aging .” Colorado State University Extension, July 2105, extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/nutrition-food-safety-health/.https://jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(97)00045-X/fulltext
  • Wright, Kathy J., et al. “Dietitians Can and Should Communicate with Older Adults With Hearing and Vision Impairments and Communication Disorders”. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 97, Issue 2 (1997): 174 – 176. Web. 2 August 2018.