May 23, 2019
We’re lucky to be living in a time where people live longer, retire later and enjoy more. And with retirement comes the chance to get closer to the things we love. For some people, it’s about rediscovering old passions. For others, it’s about learning something new. Whatever you choose, you’ll want to be fit to enjoy what’s ahead.
What is healthy aging?
The World Health Organisation defines it as: “The ability to grow, learn and make decisions, to stay active. To be and do what you value throughout your life.”
Different things affect our ability to age well, including: our genes, our lifestyle, our location and our relationships with friends and family. It’s true that some of the choices we make in our early life can alter the course of our later life, like how much we exercised and what we ate. But it’s never to late to make a change.
Our eyes and ears are essential to healthy ageing. That’s because hearing and vision help us to maintain strong social bonds with the people around us. This prevents loneliness and isolation. If unaddressed, social isolation can lead to an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia in our later years.
While we may notice changes in our vision (and act faster), it can be harder to detect (or come to terms with) the changes in our hearing. That’s because hearing changes slowly over time. Amazingly, 42% of people over 50 have a hearing loss. By 70 years old, it’s 70%.
Often, while the individual may not notice the changes in their hearing, those closest to them will spot the signs. For example, the individual may:
- Watch TV at a volume that is uncomfortable for others in the room.
- Find it harder to hear what’s said when there’s lots of background noise (for example in a busy café, restaurant, event or meeting), so they withdraw from the conversation and don’t take part.
- Concentrate more to understand certain voices (especially soft or low ones).
- Find it challenging to hear over the phone.
Hearing is key to managing socially. It’s common for people with unaddressed hearing loss to avoid social situations, as they no longer feel part of the conversation. When people withdraw and become more isolated, it’s time to act – for their wellbeing and for their health. If you are lonely it is the equivalent of smoking 4 cigarettes a day in health terms.
What’s more, becoming more isolated, seeing less of our friends and not doing the things we love can lead to mental health issues like depression. If you have a mild hearing loss you are 2 times as likely to experience depression, with a moderate hearing loss, it’s 3 times as likely and if you have a severe hearing loss, it’s 5 times more likely.
People with hearing loss are also more at risk of cognitive decline and dementia. In fact, hearing has been identified as the most significant modifiable risk factor for dementia (Lancet 2017), ahead of hypertension, obesity and lack of exercise.
Why modifiable? Because acting early on hearing loss also lessens the risk of dementia. It’s important to note that the evidence is not causal, but correlational. In other words, we know the risk with hearing loss is greater, so the conditions are linked, but we cannot say one causes the other. Either way, it’s a good idea to have your hearing regularly checked from 50 years onwards. The sooner you act, the more you can save.
Balance and preventing falls
Our eyes, ears and muscles ear all work together to help us balance. Our brain receives information from each of those sources and processes it, allowing us to move steadily. However, if one of those senses is impaired, our chances of falling are increased.
So how can you look after your senses for longer?
3 ways to age well
It’s never too late to make smart changes to the way you live, so you see more, hear more and do more for longer.
- Stay active: Just 30 minutes of activity a day, which raises your heart rate until you feel slightly out of breath, is what maintains mobility and health in later life.
- Eat healthily: Choose a healthy Mediterranean diet packed with fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, low in salt and sugar, and not too much meat.
- Stay connected: Do things that give you joy and meaning, whether that’s playing tennis, taking up photography, visiting places you love. All of these things help you to feel more positive.
With more of us living longer, it’s all about putting life into our years rather than years into life. And by looking after our eyes and ears, we can be ready for whatever comes our way. Seeing things more clearly. Hearing and being heard. And enjoying more of the people and things that we love for longer.