What We Are When the Striving Ends

Elders' Fading Five Senses

On Wednesday's post about striving, a commenter named Jack used a terrific phrase I'd never run into before – at least not in relation to dental ills. He wrote that he is “in the process of outliving his teeth.”

Me too. I know a lot about that. I am six months or so into a two-year process of implants that involves growing new bone in three or four locations, which takes several months each, before the metal posts can be drilled in place.

Meanwhile, I am wearing (and have done for the past five years) a full upper denture. It's bad enough that we naturally lose taste buds as we get older but a denture, covering the upper palate, further diminishes the ability to taste food because there are receptors for taste on the soft palate.

I compensate to a degree by using a lot of flavoring - pepper, onion, garlic, herbs, spices, etc. - reminding myself when cooking for guests to tamp it down so they aren't overwhelmed.

That's about the best anyone can do – it's just old age.

Counting only our five senses, there are serious, debilitating diseases that might afflict us in these late years. Jack's comment, however, put me more in mind of the less fearful but annoying ways our bodies can plague us as we grow old, especially as they pile up one after another.

None of what follows, like teeth above, is life-threatening. They are just irritating, caused mostly by parts wearing out.

Smell, of course, works in concert with taste for enjoyment of food. My smeller hasn't worked for more than a decade due as much, I suppose, to those years I smoked cigarettes as to old age.

It was once an important part of cooking for me; I could tell if I'd used enough onion and garlic, for example, by the intensity of the aroma during sauteeing.

Nowadays, I smell almost nothing. Except, weirdly, cantaloupe. I can tell it's in the vicinity from at least 50 feet. Any other aroma needs to be extreme for me to notice which makes it a good thing, I guess, that there is no gas in my home.

Does it seem that as your parents aged, they dropped things more frequently? Do you remember your grandmother dropping a lot of stuff? Is it happening to you these days?

You're not imagining any of that. All kinds of conditions including ubiquitous arthritis that afflicts so many elders can cause butterfingers.

So far, I haven't noticed that things slip out of my hands more frequently and as far as I can tell, the skin on my body is no less sensitive now than in my younger years. Well, unless you count my fingertips that have become as smooth as a baby's cheek.

Did you know that fingerprints wear off as we age? It's true. Some old people (me, for example) cannot be fingerprinted. You can read about that here.

And have you noticed that it's harder to turn pages of books and magazines? I recall seeing old people, when I was a kid, lick a finger before turning a page and now I know why. Our skin becomes drier as we age and combined with no fingerprints, page turning can be an exercise in frustration.

(Just a reminder that, as I often mention on this blog, people age at dramatically different rates. That isn't only in general; it also applies to such individual details as our senses. There is no specific age at which these things go wrong – or even that they will for everyone.)

Isn't vision fun. We're still young when our arms seem to grow too short to hold the book far enough away to read. That usually happens around 40 so I guess we can say that at least we have some practice for the additional annoyances that will inevitably pile up.

Even in our lifetimes, cataracts once meant blindness. Now they are an easy fix; a literal few minutes (seven, my surgeon told me) to replace the lens and we're good to go. To me, cataract surgery is as much a modern miracle as growing new bone for dental implants and I do not take either for granted.

But floaters? Do you know about floaters? Those little, black, stringy, worm-like things that move around inside your eyes? They afflict only one of mine but what makes them so terribly irritating is that their movement lags a nano-second or two behind the speed of eye movement. Out of sync, then, they are impossible to ignore.

Floaters are particularly noticeable against a white background, a book or computer screen for example, and outside on a sunny day. Like lost smell, we're just stuck with these nasty little buggers. No cure.

As with the need for reading glasses, we are still fairly young when it begins to become difficult to hear close-up conversations in noisy rooms. I've been known to turn around and walk out when I enter a new restaurant and huge noise assaults me.

There are enough restaurants in the world that it's not a bother to skip some and my larger annoyance nowadays is tinnitus – what is referred to as ringing in the ear or, in my case, more like perpetually standing under a roaring waterfall.

Fortunately, it doesn't impede hearing other things. I don't need to turn up music, radio or television – other sound apparently moves through the rushing noise without volume loss.

Although I can ignore it when I'm listening to other sounds, tinnitus is never not there. Sometimes late at night and early in the mornings when the world is mostly quiet, I yearn to hear silence as I once could. In my life, that won't ever happen again.

So: tinnitus, floaters, bum smeller, defective taste, bad teeth. In the greater scheme of things nothing here is crucial and in several cases – teeth, cataracts - we are lucky to live in times when they are correctable.

Beyond the annoyances, however, is the inescapable reminder of each new affliction, as it appears, that our bodies are wearing out, our lives are winding down. But we know that already and most of the time (if you don't count #$%^&* floaters) I can accept the changes with a wry laugh.

We become, I tell myself, like rattletrap, old cars or, as Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, “It's always something” and it's best for our well-being that we find some acceptance.

[NOTICE: This is not nor is it intended to be a blog post about whatever medical issues may attend these afflictions. Instead, it is an acknowledgement of one, commonly shared aspect of old age.

As always, advice about treatment, drugs, remedies, therapies or medical ministrations of any kind are not allowed in the comments. If they appear, they will be deleted.


Yep, I have been noticing some of these things either in me or my husband. You have to keep a sense of humor.

I'm glad you mentioned the lack of fingerprints condition. My husband failed that step in obtaining his Transportation Worker Identity Card (TWIC) associated with his Captain's license. They needed to do an authorized exception in his case after the clerk tried MANY times to get the electronic sensor to see the prints.

Like any un-oiled piece of machinery, our parts wear out. The teeth thing is very true. Fortunately, I have most of my original teeth, but now they are much smaller. After almost 70 years of chewing, they have worn down. Now, you have me looking at my fingerprints. I can barely see them. At this rate, I should be worn down to a nub within 20 years.

I have become a fumble-bum. I can't separate dollar bills without the thumb lick or get coins from falling between the knobbed knuckles for longer than a nano-second.

The floaters are an off and on again annoyance. But mostly I can ignore them.

Smell and taste are dwindling.

And my tinnitus is a high-pitched, steady hum with an occasional swoosh/throbbing of one eardrum.

Put all our sounds together--we might have a
cacophonous orchestra arrangement. And only
the elderly could hear it. Though I suspect it would be more monotonous than entertaining.

As for teeth, and bone—one of the debilitating and dreadful losses. There is no way I could afford the fix you are undergoing, Ronni. If I could afford it, I doubt I would be brave enough
to undergo the procedures.

Hoping to see some comments from those who must wear full dentures. Especially, any good reports! Good tooth fairies definitely are not visiting me any more.

My biggest issues are dry skin and the need always to have something nearby to help me turn pages, deal and separate cards, etc. I keep a container of "sticky finger" nearby just about all the time - usually in a pocket.

I used to have those awful floaters in my eyes, both of them, and they were sooo annoying. However, after two torn retinas (retinae?) and the resulting repairs, my eyes do not have any of that vitreous fluid in them, but just sterile saline. No floaters.


Four eye surgeries in the space of 14 months, but at age nearly 70, my eyesight is still 20/20. Love those new cataract replacement lenses.

I notice another diminishing sense -- sense of space. I find myself misjudging distances. It's a small amount but enough to bump into doorways much more often.

The upper outsides of both forearms always have an array of bruises. Apparently that area bears the brunt of unintended contact with solid objects.

This is for gabbygeezer:
I've worn a full upper plate for nearly 15 years and have found that my biggest issue isn't an issue at all. I use good old Poligrip to keep them in place, and I've not had any trouble with tasting things or with anything else except an occasional seed or crumb burrowing its way beneath. I also have a 10-tooth lower permanent bridge --if you are counting, I'm down to three of my "real" teeth left, not counting the two that my bridge is glued to. Having "false teeth" is probably my greatest blessing. I can eat anything I want to and I don't wake up in the middle of the night with a toothache.

Many years of being too poor to maintain my teeth led to my current dental status--that and inheriting lousy teeth from my dad.

The floaters drive me nuts & those awful plum-colored bruises from bumping into everything. And then last week I bent over to get at the vacuum cord & really banged my forehead on the corner of the dresser. Felt like such an oaf.......@#$%%%. :)Dee

I figured it was those 60-65 years of keyboarding that did my fingerprints in, but no, it must have been the paper!

These days we can get some repairs on that aging body - I also went the dental implant route - but as for the rest, well I'm just glad to be around to complain about 'em.

Good post, Ronni.

Me too! My dropping things waxes and wanes with arthritis flares.

Thank God my teeth are holding up; mostly crowns though. I don't think I'd have the your courage for implants Ronni.

I did manage to get finger prints for volunteer clearance after a week of soaking my fingers in lotion inside gloves. I'm not sure why I worked so hard on that, I doubt I could pull it off again, they are really slick now.

I'm thinking about buying some of those rubber fingertips, especially for reading magazines in waiting rooms. How many people have applied spit to those by the time I get there. ;-)

Jane d.. I have same problem with space and distance. I had hoped cataract surgery and lens would help, but not really. I find myself being afraid to step down because I don't know exactly where the lower spot is located.

I guess I suffer from all of the above plus a few other losses in ability to do the things I used to. Your analogy of an old car is one I usually think of. Our body wears out one part at a time.

I thought of another aging problem for most of us - drying up...my eyes get so dry I need my lubricating drops several times a day. And this has gotten worse after my last cataract surgery - but I love not having to wear glasses ! I got one close up lens 11 years ago as I've always been near-sighted and wanted to continue to read without glasses. Two years ago I got a multi-focal lens in the other eye - voila- no glasses at all except when I drive at night.

Now we get to see ads on TV about another area for women "drying up" but at least there are hormonal cremes for that.

Then there's dry skin - there are wonderful skin cremes for legs and arms - aren't we lucky to live in this age of replacing or remedy-ing what no longer is serviceable ?

My problem is incontinence of the nose. Like a dripping faucet that I can't control. It's also unpredictable: sometimes on, sometimes okay. I have to have a tissue in my hand or near to hand at all times.

Ms. Tweetley...
Me too. Just recently my nose started dripping now and then with no warning. As you say, like a faucet left slightly open.

What's that about?

I was always amazed that my father-in-law's teeth that his uncle dentist made him the year he graduated from high school which would have been around 1937, held up beautifully until his death at age 90. I did not realize until a few years after marrying my husband that his dad even had false teeth. They looked so natural, and he always had them in when anyone was around, and took good care of his hums, because he never ahd needed any adjustments. He ate lots of corn on the cob each summer and ate an apple almost every day of his life, and loved a good steak. The only issue he had was on one of his frequent falls at the end of life, he knocked a tooth out of one plate. We took it to a the dentist my mother-in-law had used for the last few years of her life and they had it repaired and back to us in a couple of days -- at no charge. There are some very kind people in their small town.

Count me in on the nose dripping which started just a month or so ago. It seems to happen when snacking or eating. Very strange but have learned to keep a tissue close by.

Cataract surgery is great, especially for someone like me who had been terribly near-sighted all my life. I threw away my contact lenses and all the annoying paraphernalia after my surgery in 2012.

Ronnie, I too noticed a real decrease in my ability to taste foods, so I do what you do. I use lots or onion, garlic,and herbs and really enjoy dishes with hot sauce. Tonight it'll be chicken wings with hot sauce. So yummy!

Ms. Tweetley and Ronni -- my mother-in-law had the same thing as far as dripping from the nose. I had been somewhat aware of it before becoming her caregiver the last two years of her life, but I became much more so after that, and brought it up with her doctor on more than one occasion. Never did get an answer. There was no apparent allergy, and it wasn't anything like a cold. Just like you say Ronni, it was like a little faucet running from her nose frequently. We kept boxes of tissue in every room of the house and in the car. In earlier years, she always used to keep tissue stuffed into her sleeve, if she had long sleeves, and always bought a brand that didn't disintegrate in the wash.

I just started noticing the nose dripping. Never had heard about it before. Now keep a box in every room just like the magnifying glass I just picked up to check my fingertips.

A real annoyance lately is all the typos I make. Have learned to check each email
before sending it out. Now you can't see it, but my spell check just underlined the word learned (twice now) and I know it's spelled right.
Oops, it just underlined spelled (twice now).

So much for checking my emails before sending them out. It should read a box of tissues.

I wonder if any of you have noticed your taste changing? I taste things differently now. I notice this especially with sweet favors, which I often find intrusive.

I suspect I have tinnitus which sounds like a high pitched hum. I don't pay much attentionto it. And I've had floaters forever.

And dry? Yes, dry skin, dry eyes, dry mouth. My most expensive med is Restasis!

Like others have indicated, I try to manage my ailments. And I agree we wear out eventually. So far, I'm still glad to be alive and kicking though.

I know what causes my dripping nose - allergies to pollen and dust...and I do get outside to walk and garden. We live in a windy, coastal area, in a house with windows that leak (from 1952) so the dust and pollen seep in. I have taken to vacuuming with my new vac every week and that helps a great deal.

I read your post and comments
and want to get on my knees
with thankfulness.
Now 80 severe arthritus and balance issue, use cane occasionally but not at home.
Sjogrens, dry mouth and eyes
and over the country items help this.
So that is about it. I go nonstop from 5:00 in the mornint until 2:00 P.M.
Then slow down.
Maintain a lot in my smaller country home with gardens.
Only this Spring have to have a little help outside and do all inside. I do not like what is going on but after reading this post
so thankful I am where I am
in this life journey.
Write almost daily for my 4 children and 5 grandchildren - living all over the world..

This is Jack again. I had to laugh that you commented on my outliving my teeth, but not the other sense I have outlived.
The purple bruises? Ha! I call them Senior Tattoos.

To those who have a problem with space and distance: I've benefitted enormously from eyeglasses with prisms in their lenses. The ophthalmologist explained that as we get on in years, the muscles that focus our eyes weaken and no longer work well together. It took a while to get used to the prisms--and they were expensive--but they've improved my vision to the point where I sometimes see things in 3D that look flat to everyone else.

I have a trick knee. My right knee is untrustworthy. I never know when it will decide suddenly it doesn't want to hold me upright any longer.

Also I have simple disequilibrium. It is harmless and age related but a bother. It simply means that I have (mild) trouble keeping balanced. You see people with this problem reaching out to touch the walls as they go down hallways or around corners. Just have to be careful.

So grateful that I still have all my own teeth and based on all I've heard, it's worth a king's ransom to do my darndest to keep 'em all.

I'd not heard of the nose dripping thing but I may have it. I'd just been attributing it to spring and fall allergies. Frustrating to have the excess moisture in my nose instead of where it's needed -- in my eyes and skin.

Fingerprints -- yep, took several attempts to capture them at my last driver's license renewal.

Vision -- was always near-sighted so never experienced "my arms aren't long enough" until after my cataract surgery and the switch to far-sighted lenses. I still wear glasses all the time, but now it's for the little stuff instead of distance. Given a choice, not sure which I'd prefer. A few floaters annoy me sometimes but not too bad yet. Monitoring the glaucoma is the big thing.

No apparent hearing loss yet. Just the other day I went to one of those test sites to see if I could still hear that mosquito sound that supposedly only teens can hear. I can still hear it! Amazing.

Oh, the dry fingertips! Have fought that for years. Any office worker has. Handling paper dries 'em out as fast as anything. But I do keep lotion handy, and lip balm. Seems like everything wants to dry out and blow away. But that's sort of nature's way, isn't it?

Runny nose--what a nuisance! Unfortunately, in my case it started 40 years ago when I moved from the Bay Area in California to Seattle; the first (and last) specialist I consulted said lots of people are "allergic to Seattle--the dampness, mold and sudden explosion of pollen in the spring". I'm 78 now and have helped keep Kleenex in business for lo' these many years.

I've begun to have some mild balance issues and my wonderful spouse has suggested that I might want to accompany him to his next audiology appointment. So now I suppose I'll need a hearing aid, which I really can't afford now that I'm no longer working as of 4+ months ago. Although my doc diagnosed "DJD" (degenerative joint disease) this week, overall I'm in fairly good shape, all things considered. But getting old is NOT my idea of fun!

One of the side effects of my blood pressure medication is a runny nose. A nuisance but better than high B/P!

Let's see: I have the runny nose ... not sure it is an age thing; it's been around a long time.

Teeth: I think I've probably sent a few dentists' children to college. But as long as I can afford it, it sure is nice when they can keep these from hurting.

Fingerprints: I have one place I go where I have to identify myself by putting a finger on a screen. I've learned to cheat. I walk there and about a block before I get there, I lick my finger. It's dry when I get to the screen, but apparently this gives it just enough oil to enable the light beam to read the prints. Without this aid, ferget it!

Don't take the cataract surgery success for granted. My second cataract surgery was a disaster, requiring an almost immediate second surgery and three month recover, of which I've completed 1 month. Successful cataract surgery is not a given and now I have one working eye and a blurry, sore,faded mess in the other eye. Ask a lot of questions, have a plan for coping with disaster, don't count on a happy ending. Good luck. It ain't easy.

I am sorry about your cataract surgery complications, no fun. But to be clear for everyone reading, cataract surgery is almost as safe as drinking a glass of water.

The success rate is 98 percent, and the percent of patients with no post-operative complications is 99.5.

What a bummer to be caught in the .5 percent.

Tinnitus is the one that just drives me bonkers. Mine sounds like Cicadas high pitched scream. All. The. Time. Some days louder than other days.

Thanks Ronni, I am close to having eye surgery and have always had eye problem with one...I have great Doc, who talked to me and said maybe we will just do the healthy eye, but he was going to research the other eye and successful procedures...love having whole network of Veterans commenting, as always I re read every one after first rushed read to shore up my next steps.....you are a blessing indeed...xo

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