How to protect your senses
Without your five senses you couldn’t watch the sunset, smell the grass after rain, taste that lovely sashimi, listen to the lapping ocean or enjoy a calming massage. Well-functioning senses not only enable you to have a better quality of life, they promote longevity by allowing you to remain more active and independent.
Eye to eye
Ten vision tips
- Reduce sun exposure and risk of cataracts by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses (Australian standard 1067, offering 99 per cent UV reduction) when in the sun.
- Stay active. Regular exercise can reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration by up to 70 per cent.
- Undergo screening for diabetes and high blood pressure, conditions that can cause chronic and debilitating eye problems if left untreated.
- Give up smoking, which contributes to degenerative conditions of the retina — the “seeing” layer at the back of the eye.
- Eat fish. Studies indicate that a fish meal just once a week reduces the chance of developing macular degeneration by 40 per cent, possibly by combating free radicals in the eye.
- Reduce computer eye-strain. Every hour, look at least six feet away from the screen and back. Roll your eyes to the right and the left and cup your eyes in your hands, closing them for a few minutes.
- When gardening or renovating, wear glasses with a hard, unscratchable lens to protect eyes from flying particles.
- Reduce your intake of saturated fats and sugars; both are linked to the development of eyesight problems.
- Eat more green, leafy vegetables, which studies show help keep the retina of the eye in better working order.
- Ensure you have eye checks every one to two years to screen for conditions such as glaucoma.
Ten hearing tips
- Treat ear problems such as a middle ear infection promptly to prevent complications that can result in total or partial hearing loss.
- Avoid going to noisy music venues twice within 24 hours; loud noise can harm the tiny cilia (hearing hairs) located in the cochlea of your ear and they take at least 16 hours to recover. When using circular saws, sanders, nail guns and lawn mowers, protect your ears by wearing industrial-strength earmuffs.
- Turn down portable players such as iPods and Discmans and don’t use them for more than six hours a week.
- After swimming, shake your head on the side to help remove water, then dry your ears with a towel. Alcohol-based eardrops can also evaporate excess water caught in the ear canal. These strategies will help reduce the risk of infection.
- Give up cigarettes and other forms of smoking, which cause vascular problems that adversely affect hearing.
- Minimise use of medications, such as antidepressants, antibiotics, aspirin and diuretics, which can all affect hearing, causing problems such as tinnitus.
- Don’t clean your ears with cotton buds — you might introduce bugs to the ear canal, causing infection, or push wax onto the eardrum, which will dull sound.
- Avoid travelling on an aeroplane when suffering a cold or you risk your eardrums bursting from the increased pressure.
- Consult with a health practitioner to discuss possible supplementation with magnesium, zinc, ginkgo biloba (to improve circulation) and niacin.
- See your GP for a referral to an audiologist if you develop ringing in your ears or notice changes such as loss of hearing.
Taste and teeth
Ten dental tips
- Brush your teeth at least twice daily using a rolling motion from the gum towards the biting edge and a soft scrubbing motion on grinding surfaces. Floss your teeth regularly or within 24 hours the dental film on your teeth will become permanent plaque.
- Treat gum problems. People with inflamed, sore or bleeding gums are almost twice as likely to suffer coronary artery disease. This is possibly because the bacteria in the mouth enter the bloodstream and attach to fatty plaques in the arteries of the heart.
- Limit intake of acidic and sugary foods such as dried fruit, salad dressings, fruit juice and soft drinks, as these lead to acid attacks on teeth.
- Avoid smoking, which can increase your risk of gum disease and cancer of the mouth and throat.
- Treat bad breath, which may indicate the presence of bacteria that can lead to gum disease and tooth decay.
- Breathe through your nose; mouth breathing can reduce the flow of saliva, which protects teeth from decay.
- When playing sport, always wear a mouth guard.
- Watch out for dental decay, which usually shows up as a white or brown area on tooth enamel. If cavities are caught early, special toothpaste mousse can be applied to help teeth remineralise.
- Avoid mouthwashes (some have been linked to cancer in recent studies) and use a salty rinse to help combat germs in your mouth.
- Visit your dentist for a six-monthly or yearly clean and check-up.
To safeguard your sense of touch, you need to protect the sensitive nerve endings and touch receptors located in your skin, particularly in your:
- Hands: There are about 100 touch receptors in your fingertips, so take care to avoid accidents. Simple measures include using a chopping knife carefully, wearing thermal gloves when handling hot food, placing safety guards on saws and closing heavy car doors with care.
- Lips, face, neck, feet and tongue: Adopting strategies such as wearing a mouth guard when playing sport and putting on protective shoes when mowing the lawn will help protect your touch sensation in those areas of the body.
Smell the roses
Enjoy a highly functioning sense of smell as you age by adopting the following strategies:
- Protect against nose impact injuries: Always wear a seatbelt and use a helmet with a mouth guard when playing sport such as cricket.
- Eat foods high in zinc: This important mineral found in lamb, yoghurt and seafood is crucial to your sense of smell.
- Give up smoking: Smell receptors can become damaged over time by cigarette chemicals.
- Address food or environmental allergies: These may be causing nasal congestion that can dull smell receptors.
- Eat stimulating foods: Curries, horseradish, cinnamon and spearmint arouse the trigeminal nerve, which affects smell.