The good news in your 60s: your vision begins to stabilize, and you’re less likely to need a new prescription for your eyeglasses.
Reality check in your 60s: Taste, smell and your sense of touch are slightly reduced.
- It’s a great time to explore new and interesting foods. If you’ve always avoided, say, Indian food because you couldn’t handle the spice, now may be the time to rethink that. The number of taste-sensing cells on your tongue have diminished somewhat. Salty and sweet tastes are the first to decline, along with overall flavor intensity.
- Strong aromas don’t bother you as much as they did. Way up in your nose, nerve endings intercept odors and send them to your brain for processing. These sensors wear out eventually. So while bad smells may not offend as much, you may also miss warning signs for smoke or gas, for instance. Make certain you have working smoke alarms and other safety systems in place.
- You look fabulous in sunglasses. Your natural tears contain less oil now, so they don’t lubricate the surface of your peepers as effectively. Think twice about prescription “dry eye” drops; they work for only a limited number of people. Preservative-free artificial tears, a humidifier and sunglasses when you’re outdoors are a better bet. For severe cases, your ophthalmologist can install plugs in the tear ducts at the inner corner of your eyes so tears stick around longer.
- But you’re nervous about driving at night. The tiny muscles that work your pupils are less peppy after age 60, so at night they don’t open as wide to let in light and they take longer to shrink when an oncoming car flashes its high beams. Spotting subtle contrasts is tougher, too, making it more difficult to see signs and road hazards at night and to judge the speed of other vehicles. No wonder nearly 20 percent of people stopped driving at night by their late 60s, one study found. To make night driving easier, keep your headlights, mirrors and windows clean.
- You may be looking at cataract surgery … In fact, in the U.S. the median age for this procedure is 67½, although people who live in more sun-soaked regions are more likely to require surgery at a younger age. Getting rid of your cataracts could cut your risk for traffic accidents in half.
- Hearing aids may be on the table too. Thanks to decades of noise exposure, about 43 percent of us have mild to moderate hearing loss in one or both ears. Today’s hearing aids are barely noticeable; if hearing aids no longer work for you, ask your doctor about cochlear implants, which can improve hearing.
- Protecting your sight and hearing could protect your brain. Poor vision has been linked to a 90 percent higher risk for cognitive and memory problems, and hearing loss can contribute to worsening memory and cognitive problems — perhaps because you have less information coming into your brain.
- Why do I stumble more often? It may be your ears. “Balance gets thrown off when you can’t hear your footsteps,” says Frank Lin, M.D., an associate professor of otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Ask your doctor about hearing aid options, which can prevent falls and protect against social isolation.