Global Sensory Impairment in Older Adults in the United States

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OBJECTIVES: To determine whether there may be a common mechanism resulting in global sensory impairment of the five classical senses (vision, smell, hearing, touch, and taste) in older adults. DESIGN: Representative, population-based study. SETTING: National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project. PARTICIPANTS: Community-dwelling U.S. adults aged 57 to 85. MEASUREMENTS: The frequency with which impairment co-occurred across the five senses was estimated as an integrated measure of sensory aging. It was hypothesized that multisensory deficits would be common and reflect global sensory impairment that would largely explain the effects of age, sex, and race on sensory dysfunction. RESULTS: Two-thirds of subjects had two or more sensory deficits, 27% had just one, and 6% had none. Seventy-four percent had impairment in taste, 70% in touch, 22% in smell, 20% in corrected vision, and 18% in corrected hearing. Older adults, men, African Americans, and Hispanics had greater multisensory impairment (all P < .01). Global sensory impairment largely accounted for the effects of age, sex, and race on the likelihood of impairment in each of the five senses. CONCLUSION: Multisensory impairment is prevalent in older U.S. adults. These data support the concept of a common process that underlies sensory aging across the five senses. Clinicians assessing individuals with a sensory deficit should consider further evaluation for additional co-occurring sensory deficits.


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Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

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