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Your 5 Senses at 50+

What to expect with your sensory function

spinner image Illustration showing what to expect regarding your senses at your 50s
Your taste palate changes as you age, so now may be the time to try foods you once thought too spicy.
Peter Arkle

The good news for your senses at 50-plus: Your body’s web of sensory nerves still flashes news to your brain at speeds up to 268 miles per hour. 

Learn what to expect for your health and wellness in your 50s, 60s and 70s in this series from AARP The Magazine. 

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The reality check for your senses at 50-plus: Some of your senses may start needing a boost, be it hot sauce or glasses.

  • Your eyes are looking good. More than 90 percent of people in their late 50s are untouched by cataracts or other serious eye issues. Especially if you live north of the Mason-Dixon Line. A recent study found that for every one degree higher in latitude you live, your chance of having cataract surgery is decreased by 1 percent. Indeed, odds for this surgery are 20 percent lower in Portland, Ore., than in Miami, probably due to the difference in UV-light exposure — one more reason sunglasses aren’t just for playing cool.
  • You might get more floaters. Surprise: Those little squiggles moving about aren’t on the surface of your eye — they’re inside. Age-related changes could cause an increase in floaters in your 50s and beyond. It’s usually not a problem unless they come with other symptoms, such as flashes of light. Get regular eye exams so your eye doc can keep track of this and other eye-health indicators. Rates of macular degeneration and glaucoma double between ages 45 and 55. 
  • You don’t notice the blister on your foot. After 50, many people begin to experience a reduced sensitivity to pain or may be better able to tolerate it.
  • It’s a great time to explore new, interesting foods. If you’ve always avoided, say, Indian food because you couldn’t handle the spice, now may be the time to rethink this. Your tongue’s number of taste-sensing cells will begin to diminish in your late 50s. Salty and sweet tastes are the first to decline, along with overall flavor intensity, which may cause you to use more salt and sugar in your cooking. Plus, brush, floss and see your dentist regularly; gum disease can leave a bad taste in your mouth that changes the taste of food.  
    • ... and strong aromas don’t bother you as much. Your nose’s nerve endings intercept odors and send them to the brain for processing. These sensors wear out over time; exposure to strong chemical fumes and insults such as sinus infections also have an effect.  
    • You may want to turn up the lights ... At midlife the eye’s lens stiffens and the muscle fibers that control the lens’s shape weaken. You may need more light for reading because your pupils don’t open as wide.    
    • ... or use a hearing aid. One in 5 people in their 50s have trouble hearing sounds below a quiet whisper. Loud sounds knock out tiny hair cells inside your ears that send sound signals to your brain. Today’s hearing aids are nearly invisible; if you’ve tried them and they no longer work for you, talk with your physician about a cochlear implant, which can restore hearing.
    • You may stumble more often. Balance issues in your 50s may be caused by hearing loss. “Balance gets thrown off when you can’t hear your footsteps,” says  Frank Lin, M.D., associate professor of otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins University. Ask your doctor if it’s time for a hearing test.

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