If you’ve felt that your senses have dulled with age, you’re probably right — and you definitely have a lot of company. In fact, a 2016 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 94 percent of older adults in the US have experienced decline in at least one of their five senses. It’s a sobering statistic, but thankfully there are some easy techniques to improve our senses. Maintaining our hearing, sight, taste, touch, and smell feels especially vital now, with all the sensory joys the holiday season has to offer. Trying some of these tricks might just help you enjoy the holidays as vividly as you did in your youth.
Hone your hearing like a musician.
Switch on the radio and try to zero in on the moment the piano melody kicks in or when you hear the lead guitar. A Northwestern University study found that “Music experience bolsters the elements that combat age-related communication problems.” So when you listen to a song, try focusing intently like a musician would — you just might strengthen your brain’s ability to process what you hear, making it easier to tune in talking and tune out background noise.
Sharpen your sight with red light.
To make dazzling sunsets more vibrant, gaze at a red light. The color switches on the energy centers (known as mitochondria) in the eyes’ retinas, offsetting an age-related decline in contrast and color sensitivity. A recent British study found that gazing at a red-tinted screen for 3 minutes each morning can improve your vision by 20 percent. Simply watch a YouTube video like “Deep Red Light 3min 670nm,” which streams this sight-sharpening red wavelength for free.
Enhance your taste by alternating bites.
At dinner, take a bite of meat, then a forkful of potatoes. Rotating food with each bite is a form of “mindful eating” that can help focus your senses, according to studies cited by Harvard’s School of Public Health. Mindful eating encourages you to slow down and better taste your food, engaging the senses and potentially making you feel more satiated.
Improve your sense of touch with temperature changes.
Over time, skin thins and microcirculation slows, dulling your sense of touch. The fix: Once daily, as you’re washing your hands or taking a bath or shower, alternate between hot and cold water. Contracting and expanding blood vessels boosts oxygen flow, according to various studies. This leaves you more aware of, say, the feeling of holding your grandchild’s hand.
Bolster your sense of smell with your eyes closed.
Grab five spice jars, then close your eyes and sniff them each once a day. Trying to identify the scents without using your vision fine-tunes your sense of smell. Focusing in on just one sense can help to shut out distractions and enhance mindfulness, says cognitive scientist Art Markman.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.