The American actress, Bette Davis, famously said that “old age ain’t for sissies” and a big reason, certainly, for everyone’s considerable fear of aging is the physical decline we see in those who are older that we are.
In recent years, I’ve noticed that all my five senses aren’t quite what they once were. So far, at 63, the changes are only mildly annoying, easily adapted to and attributable not to disease, but aging - which is (not wanting to buy trouble) what I was interested in knowing. So I took a little tour around the Web and what I found is pretty much as expected.
The experts agree that decline in vision and hearing are the most dramatic, and they offer some fascinating random insights:
“The pupil size decreases by 60 years old to one-third of the size it was at age 20.”
“For people of all ages, it is harder to tell blues and greens from each other than to tell apart reds and yellows. This becomes more pronounced with aging.”
“Almost everyone older than 55 needs glasses at least part of the time. However, the amount of change is not universal.”
“Some aging-related changes can begin as early as your 30s.”
Mine began at age 12 when I first needed glasses to see the blackboard at school. I switched to contact lenses five years later and my eye doctor recently told me that he has contact lens patients in their 90s. To dispense with reading glasses I wear one lens for distance and one for close-up, and I’m betting, for now, that will work until I’m dead.
The experts say hearing grows less sharp as early as age 50 and is inevitable for most everyone, with a particular loss of the ability to hear high-frequency sounds. I can’t say if that’s happened to me. It’s sort of like memory; since I'm not a musician with a finely trained ear, how would I know?
I couldn’t find much information on my problem which is that it has become, in the past ten years or so, difficult to hear someone speaking near me when there is a lot of background noise. I never liked noisy places anyway, so it doesn’t put much of a crimp in my life.
TASTE AND SMELL
These two senses go together because, although distinct, they work in tandem too and along with everything else, they decline with age. Here are some more nifty facts:
“Taste buds can recognize some 10,000 different flavors. Attached to each taste bud are flavor-receiving cells that every 10 days are replaced with fresh new cells.”
“We all have approximately 9,000 taste buds…The number of taste buds decreases beginning at about 40 to 50 years old on women and 50 to 60 years old in men.”
“…the keenness of smell diminishes faster with age than does the keenness of taste…In the average octogenarian, the sense of smell is half as sharp as it was during his or her youth.”
My expansive waistline is proof that my taste remains strong. I almost always eat not from hunger, but pleasure in flavors and textures. Diminished ability to smell, however, is the most irritating loss for me; it’s all but gone - some of it, undoubtedly, related to the years I smoked cigarettes. Garlic, fortunately, remains strong and oddly, I can smell a freshly cut cantaloupe from 10 yards away. I’ve given up perfume and cologne because I can no longer tell how much is too much.
Skin, they say, loses some ability to sense pain, pressure and vibration with age. “There can be a change in temperature sensitivity too,” and for this I am grateful. Until recent years, many a foul-mouthed muttering could be heard from me against the gods of winter wind and cold. Now I feel them less and have gained a larger appreciation of the wonderland snowstorms create, although I suspect, in my case, it has more to do with at last understanding the wisdom of clothing layers and hats over fashion.
So far, I have not needed any Bette Davis-style courage to deal with the physical changes that have come along which I seem naturally to accept without the whining at fate I was prone to in youth.
Everything wears out and unless you are among those who believe modern science (or quackery) will miraculously restore your youthful being while granting you another 50 or 100 years of life, it’s best to adapt and get on with living.