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This Week in Elder News - 25 July 2009

Sense(s) of Annoyance

category_bug_journal2.gif Don't get me wrong as you read what follows. I am grateful for my good health which undoubtedly has less to do with smart living over the years than luck and genes. Also, I like the age I am (68), and have no desire to be younger or even to look younger.

In addition to health and appearance, I have made peace with many of the demons that haunted my youth and middle years, I continue to grow more comfortable in my skin, I have enough experience now to make fewer mistakes and I've gotten smarter – I can't be fooled as easily anymore. Getting old has been good to me.

Nevertheless, there is a mounting number of physical irritants and I've been such good little trooper on this blog in support of health care reform that I claim my right today to bitch:

My five senses have gone to hell.

Did your mother tell you to turn on a light when she caught you reading in a dim room? Mine did: “Turn on the light,” she said, “or you'll go blind.” I guess she was right. Unless a lamp is trained directly on the page or I'm sitting next to a window in daylight, the words fade and turn to mush.

It hardly works at all nowadays. Does Ollie the cat's poop stink? Not that I can tell. Is there enough garlic in the soup? I can only hope. As far as my nose knows, they've bred the fragrance out of flowers.

I opened the kitchen trash bin one day a year or so ago and even I, with my fading sense of smell, was blown over from the stench that must have permeated the kitchen before it got strong enough for me to notice. Now I've taken to sealing kitchen garbage that can rot into its own little zip bags instead dumping it in the trash bin as I had done all my life.

A large part of how we taste food is related to smell, so I hardly need to explain this one. So far, it is holding up reasonably well, but I've noticed that some foods seem not to be as richly flavored as in the past. (That could be agribusiness growing for shipping convenience over flavor.) I'm teaching myself to appreciate texture.

These still work well enough that I wince, as I always have, at noises other people seem to ignore or, at least, tolerate. Nearby fire truck and police sirens cause an actual pain in my ears, and it is not my imagination that television stations jack up the volume for local commercials over the network feed.

But when there is a lot of ambient noise – in a restaurant, for example, with the buzz of conversation or background music or both – I can't distinguish the speech of the person with me. It all blends together and to compensate, I'm becoming a fairly accomplished lip-reader.

This is my single sense that remains unaffected. As far as I can tell. But the changes above have come about slowly, so perhaps this one isn't yet advanced enough to notice.

In addition, I leak (as we discussed a couple of weeks ago), my sleep schedule is erratic and the one prescription drug I take gives me gas. Is it any wonder I bitch? At least I'm not drooling.

Barring accident or disease, we make our way through the decades of life seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling as a birthright. We hardly notice how much they do for us; they are just there, individually and in tandem, bringing the world to us, enriching our experience and warning us of danger.

Now, to my surprise, I can't rely on my senses. This is part of “what it's really like to get old,” as it says on the blog banner up there, and no one tells you it will happen one day. Not that knowing would change anything, but I would like to have been advised to expect it.

I do what I can to accommodate the losses and certainly I'll take these over cancer, stroke or heart disease any day. But damn, it is really annoying.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: She Never Loved You.


I have noticed that my sense of feeling is not as good near my cheeks and mouth and I can have crumbs there and not notice! That is why elderly people have food on their face...they don't feel it.

I recommend acupuncture for the bladder, might help with leaking, I don't know.

And to make matters worse, while growing old, the young people don't see us, don't feel us, don't hear us, and they don't like to smell us (seriously, how many times do kids not like the way grandma's house smells?). We are going in one direction and they are going in the other and we end up invisible and, at the same time, everything around us diminishes as our receptors decline.

It's the loss of taste I mind the most these days. It has alot to do with how & what I prepare in the kitchen. Sigh. :)Dee

Is it arrogance that makes younger people remain ignorant about the realities of old age or that the elderly did not get a chance to describe these handicaps before? Younger folks will now live longer, if they are lucky, so they had better pay attention to your blog, Ronni. Thanks for leading the way towards a better understanding between the different age groups.

Reminds us to appreciate what we have while we have it...

I hope you've discussed all this with a doctor.

Amen! Whoever said that youth is wasted in the young was obviously old and very, very right.

you should mention these things to your doc at your next visit. Some, at least, could be symptoms of an underlying condition (other than the condition of just plain growing older). A votre santé!

Ronni,I can relate to this post!
My sleep patterns are maddening. But on the vision problem, you may have cataracts. Your problem sounds like mine, and I am told that I will have to have cat. surgery in the future.

On hearing changes, I noticed, when I was working, how hearing impairments isolated elderly people. My mother who has noticeable hearing loss, has learned to compensate by reading lips. But when the loss becomes so bad it affects me, I am committed to getting some sort of hearing aid. Not being able to hear makes you isolated. You don't hear asides and jokes. I see evidence of this already and I will have a hearing test to evaluate where I am.

Have you considered doing a hearing test?

On the taste/smell issue--I noted that things tasted funny to me when I was taking Lipitor. Anyone else have that experience?

I don't think telling youngers about the physical challenges of aging would do any good for anyone. No one wants to hear a litany of problesm--which would only be perceived as complaints.
Better to be upbeat. We spend so little time with our loved younger friends and family. I do think our positive outlook and interesting lives serve as role models for aging. I know my parents were role models for me in this.

To those who suggest I see a physician:

I do not have cataracts; I just need to remember to turn on a lamp.

The hearing aids that purport to do something about my most commonplace hearing problem in noisy environments are expensive and not particularly effective.

I don't have any underlying condition(s). These are nothing more than old age.

I didn't post this today looking for medical advice - I'm just generally grumbling about some minor annoyances that are how life is. If you live long enough, there are trade offs.

Not everything is treatable and I'm certainly not going to waste Medicare time and money on such minor complaints.

Wonderfully put. Too true but you're light touch is actually humorous.
The taste thing. It's supposed to come with age to some degree. I did hear on the radio that people should not take Zycam (to shorten duration of colds) because it can completely ruin your sense of smell. Then that would affect your tasting ability, too, I should think.

I don't know about anyone else, but I was blessed to have grandparents and great-grandparents galore, plus one great-great grandmother. My relatives, whom I saw often, included a great-grandfather with one arm and an uncle with multiple physical and intellectual differences. This means that I grew up knowing what the "handicapped" people went through and what they could contribute to life (the great-grandfather worked into his 80s and the uncle contributed to community life to the best of his abilities). In addition, given exposure to people of various ages, it was no mystery where I would be heading as I aged. Old people were a part of my life - not something outside of it.

It frequently occurs to me to ask myself, "How can I expect today's young people to behave/observe any differently from the way my generation did?" The answer: I can't, I don't, and they act pretty much as we did.

My glasses are the first thing I put on in the morning and the last thing to come off in the evening. Thank goodness for them! I can no longer drive in the evening comfortably unless I know the roads well. I’ve been told that I will need cataract surgery eventually. When did this all happen???
My teeth have never been great. In desperation to hold on to what I do have, I’ve asked the dentist’s permission to eat some of my favorites—nuts, hard pretzels, etc. I went so far as to buy one of my all time childhood delights last summer--a big shiny red candy apple. I held it; licked it a few times, and threw it in the trash.
Now you have me wondering about my taste buds. I’ve noticed my desire to add more salt to what I’m eating (I know it’s not a good thing, but choose to do so anyway), and also a desire to eat more spicy foods. Regular ketchup no longer fits the bill. I’ve switched to Heinz Chili Sauce and just yesterday to Tabasco Spicy Ketchup (Hot ‘N Thick) hmmmm.

I am glad you stepped in and said you weren't looking for medical advice. I don't understand why people thought you were. I have enough faith in your intelligence to know you would seek medical advice if you thought it was warranted.

To me, you are just facing reality, those of us in the elder generation need to accept limitations that are part of the normal process of aging. Yes, our body parts begin to wear out.

I have several friends my age (80), who are unable to face their limitations and run from one Doctor to the other and end up frustrated or with medication that causes more problems. I dare say, if they didn't have Medicare they would find a way to live with the limitations. Instead they are only adding to the high cost of medical care.


Re the volume of commercials - I heard somewhere that ads are generally broadcast at fullest possible volume whereas programmes tend to be more nuanced. This then leads to a dischordant break in listening volume on the other side of the tv screen... Though Im thinking you, with your media background, might have more specific knowledge on that one and I could be reiterating a totally garbage urban myth! lol...

My eyes are the issue that bugs me the most. I started wearing bi-focal contacts in 2005, but starting this year have had to wear reading glasses on top of the bifocal contacts to read or work at the computer. Finally decided to see my doctor last month and today will be my third try at fine tuning my contacts so I can read and work at the computer while also being able to drive.

I can definitely sympathize, especially with hearing.

Eyes: I've been slightly near-sighted since I was 8 years old. My mother told me years ago that I would get more far-sighted as I aged. And, sure enough, at age 72 my glasses are becoming progressively lower in strength each year.
Smell: Check for Zinc deficiency.
check for the article on zinc. Here's a brief quote from the article ...
Signs of zinc deficiency:

of zinc deficiency include hair loss, skin eruptions, diarrohea, degradation of body tissues, and, eventually death also.

Since a person’s vision, taste, smell and memory are all connected with proper levels of zinc in the body - a deficiency in zinc causes faulty working of these organs. Deficiency of zinc may lead to poor night vision, falling hair, white spots under fingernails, skin problems, sleep disturbances, reduced wound-healing, decreased appetite, a decrease in the sense of taste and smell, a reduced ability to fight infections, and poor development of reproductive organs.
Also might check the Web at
Gas: Try yogurt and pro-biotics like Primal Defense (brand name). Works like magic.

Didn't mean to give medical advice. But your eye situation does sound exactly like my symptoms. My eyes are maddening when there is little contrast. Can't read small print. My doc assures me it is cataracts.

At this point I am just happy it isn't the first symptoms of diabetes, my family curse.

I agree that getting older requires many accomodations.

Sometimes it's the little things that can be maddening. My husband, like many older men, can't hear high-pitched sounds well. It would be so sad to not hear the birds and insects singing. He also doesn't notice when the TV is loud enough to entertain our neighbors.

He has lost much of his sense of smell, and so enjoys spicier foods. More salt is not an option.

My senses still are good in my 70s, except for the thing about needing much more light to see. I don't drive at night except on familiar roads.

Most of us do get far-sighted, which in my case was a blessing. Now I can read the road signs way ahead and see everything in the distance clearly. But that means reading glasses for close-up vision. The cheap ones from a discount store work fine for me.

Poor night vision usually is related to age, not cataracts. The eye doctor assures me I don't have them. Hubby has had his removed, but he still can't see at night.

Maybe older men can't hear high-pitched sounds so they don't have to listen to their poor old wives asking them to do a chore. (Just kidding.)

I have been close friends with five women for almost 20 years. When we first met (as members of a single women's discussion group)we vowed that we would never be like our mothers, who seemed to be constantly engaged in a litanies of their current ailments. Well, 20 years later, guess what we wind up doing whenever we get together -- aware that we now know why our mothers did that. But, unlike our mothers, we laugh about our foibles and "feebles" and then go on to dissect politics and fantasize how we would rule this country if we could.

Good post. Thank you.

Thank God at 66- I seem to have all systems go, I think....but at times there are "bumps" in the road and strange moments - I guess they call them senior moments. I panic if I don't know the way somewhere, don't like to be out of my element, and have anxiety attacks and depression. I take zoloft and attivan in small doses and it seems to ease things. I guess we take the good with the bad and just keep on going, Ronni and making adjustments as needed.

I'd think twice before writing, "At least I'm not drooling." (2d paragraph under Touch)

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