Dementia can cause older adults to experience various changes that impact more than just their brain, dementia can cause changes in personality, behavior, and even the physical body as a consequence of deterioration in certain parts of the brain. This is what causes the sensory changes that seniors experience that could impact their health and well-being, especially if no attempt is made in correcting the diminishing sense.
When we think about dementia, we just think about how it impacts short term memory, not paying any heed to an often overlooked consequence of the condition of it affecting the way the brain recognizes and processes the five senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. Understanding what happens as memory loss progresses and what can be done to help your senior loved one adapt with memory loss, can go a long way towards ensuring your loved one’s safety. Here are some ways any form of dementia can alter a person’s senses, along with some other things you can do to help:
Changes in vision– It is common for people living with dementia to experience vision impairments, including loss of ability to tell the difference between colors or discern shapes. You can help your loved one by using things like color contrast strips to help them easily differentiate things like drawers, cabinets and steps. Also, schedule eye exams at regular intervals and keep prescription eyeglasses updated, seek treatment for age-related vision concerns like cataracts or macular degeneration, and maintain adequate lighting inside the house.
Hearing impairment– Hearing is often taken for granted, often taken as a not-so-important sense, but the inability to hear can cause people to lose their ability to participate in conversations and stay connected to their environment. Also, one becomes incapable of locating the source of common sounds like ringing telephone, doorbell, etc. One can still deal with some hearing loss and function normally on a daily basis, but the same cannot be said for a person with dementia. An individual with dementia may test as having excellent hearing and yet still be unable to process certain sounds, which can cause a great deal of confusion and anxiety.
As a caregiver, schedule a hearing exam and use suitable hearing aids if required, keep the environment calm and quiet if sound is agitating someone with dementia, and speak clearly when talking to your loved one- face him and make eye contact.
As dementia or Alzheimer’s disease progresses, caring for your loved one on your own can become a challenge. When that time comes, trust Senior Sanctuary of Anthem- an award-winning North Phoenix assisted living facility in Anthem- to care for your loved one. We empower our residents to live engaging and fulfilling lives in our safe memory care community, where their families find support and peace of mind in knowing their loved ones are safe and secure.
Changes in smell and taste– Smell is one of the first senses impacted by dementia, and loss of the ability to smell invariably impacts our taste buds. One may not be able to smell smoke from a fire or tell if food is spoiled, and he or she may consume spoiled food unknowingly with taste impaired simultaneously. Someone with decreased taste may even place inappropriate objects or substances in their mouths.
As a caregiver there are so many things you can do to help your loved one cope with the situation, starting with keeping the refrigerator and pantry cleared of any outdated (expired or rotten) foods, keeping all hazardous objects or substances, including over-the-counter medications and cleaning supplies out of their reach, to being careful about choking hazards and learning how to perform the lifesaving Heimlich maneuver, and lastly, giving them safe objects to help with chewing like a wooden spoon or teething ring.
Diminished sense of touch– Yes, dementia can even impact the sense of touch. This might put them in harm’s way as they are unable to tell whether or not a stove burner is warm, or how hot running water is. We cannot take away from the importance of physical touching as a necessary part of human interaction that contributes to happiness and well-being, which means decreased sensation can cause the person with dementia to feel isolated and lonely.
In order to address these issues, first and foremost safeguard their environment and consider doing things like labeling hot and cold water taps to avoid scalds, and putting warning stickers on the oven and range top. Disconnect electrical appliances when not in use, install shower fixtures that limit warm water temperature, and give them items that offer a comforting touch sensation, like soft stuffed animals, etc.