It is commonly known that hearing and vision impairment are much more pronounced in the elderly population. With the gradual onset of hearing and vision loss, certain tasks become more difficult for seniors.
In addition to the direct difficulties, such as having trouble reading smaller type or understanding conversations, hearing and vision loss is also associated with the development of mood disorders, according to Dennis Norman, Chief of Psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"Vision and hearing loss are major public health issues because they affect so many older individuals, and because they have an adverse impact on mental health," says Norman. "If the senses are limited, everything is affected, including interaction with surroundings, relationships, activities, and feelings of self-worth. Impairment can lead to depression, anxiety, social isolation and many other problems."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 3.6 million Americans over the age of 70 have impaired vision, and 6.7 million older adults report impaired hearing.
The CDC also indicates that these individuals also are more likely to experience problems in other activities of daily life, such as walking, going outdoors, getting in and out of chairs or bed, or managing their prescription medications. They are also less likely to socialize than individuals without sensory impairment.
A recent study reported in Archives of Ophthalmology (April 2006) also suggests that there’s a significant link between visual problems and thinking, memory and learning.
Hearing impairment has also been linked to cognitive decline. Brandeis University researchers suggest that mental resources are expended toward efforts to hear, at the expense of memory.
Preventive Measures to Protect from Hearing and Vision Impairment
- Wear sunglasses to reduce exposure to UV radiation
- Protect ears by avoiding loud noises, wearing earplugs, and keep earphone volume down
- Stay healthy with regular medical checkups, quitting smoking, and managing conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure that can damage eyes and/or ears.
- Maintain a healthful diet: Get plenty of vitamin C through citrus fruits and juices; eat carrots and dark-green leafy vegetables such as spinach for beta-carotene; eat whole grains, nuts, and eggs for vitamin E; and get needed zinc from fish, meats, whole grains and dairy products. For nutrients that strengthen or protect hearing, eat foods rich in: vitamin D (fortified dairy products, seafood, fortified cereals); vitamin B12 (meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products and shellfish); and folate (liver, eggs, beans, fortified cereals, leafy green vegetables, and fruits).
- Consider supplements. Ask your doctor about taking supplements such as bilberry (huckleberry), ginkgo biloba and vinpocetine.
These groups offer support and information to help people cope with hearing and vision impairment:
- EyeCare America. Offers free access to medical eye care for eligible individuals.
Vision USA, a public service of the American Optometric Association, provides free eye care to uninsured, low-income, working Americans and their families.
- American Academy of Audiology. Provides information for consumers looking for hearing care.
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Provides information on hearing professionals nationwide.