Cooperative Extension Fact Sheets Help with Elderly Issues

Hearing impairments

Hearing loss is potentially the most serious of all sensory impairments.

Unlike vision loss, hearing loss is not easily recognized by others and rarely prompts empathy and understanding. Hearing impairments can lead to social withdrawal, isolation, depression, paranoia and suspiciousness. Even a slight loss can be emotionally upsetting if it jeopardizes communication and relationships with family and friends and also may significantly impair the ability to successfully cope with or adapt to other age-related losses.

Prolonged noise exposure (e.g. farm machinery), injury, medication, disease, heredity and age all are factors that affect hearing. Some hearing loss can be reversed, so don’t be misled by the belief that all hearing loss is a product of normal aging.

To help individuals with hearing impairments maintain positive self-images, you can arrange furniture in rooms so people are no more than six feet apart and visible to each other.

For people with hearing impairments, options for treatment range from training in speech-reading to hearing aids mounted in eyeglass frames.

For more information about hearing impairments and the elderly, visit the Web at

Vision changes

The eye functions much like a camera. When we are young, the lens of the eye is soft and flexible and changes shape to maintain a clear focus of visual images on the retina. As we grow older, the lens loses flexibility. Often, by the time a person is 40 years old, the lens may harden and set. No matter how hard the muscles strain, the shape of a lens cannot change. At this point, the eye becomes like a fixed-focus camera: fine for distance but not much good for close-up work or vice versa.

Cataracts are a primary cause of poor vision in adults. The word "cataract" comes from the Latin word for waterfall. If you imagine trying to look at objects as if you were standing behind a waterfall, you can get some idea of what it’s like to see the world when suffering from cataracts. Glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and dry-eye syndrome all are vision problems that increase with age.

To help the visually-impaired, use color contrast, balanced lighting instead of increased light intensity from a single source. Using a person’s remaining, stronger senses also will help.

Exercise and a healthy diet as well as regular check-ups are some preventative measures you can take to avoid vision impairments.

For more information about age-related vision changes, visit the Web at

Falls and injuries

The most profound effect of falling is the loss of independence.

Among people 65 to 69 years of age, one out of every 200 falls result in a hip fracture, and among those 85 or older, one fall in 10 results in a hip fracture. Twenty-five percent of those who fracture a hip require life-long nursing care. Two-thirds of those who fall will fall again within six months. About 25 percent of community-dwelling people 75 or older unnecessarily restrict their activities because of fear of falling.

Some people believe that falls are part of aging and are not preventable. In reality, a lack of knowledge leads to a lack of preventive action, which may result in falls.

Falls are caused by several factors. The first is osteoporosis, caused by hormonal changes, calcium and vitamin D deficiency; and a decrease in physical activity. Failure to do regular exercise results in poor muscle tone, decreased strength and loss of bone mass and flexibility.

Cataracts and glaucoma alter depth perception, visual acuity, peripheral vision and susceptibility to glare. Medications can reduce mental alertness, worsening balance and gait, and can cause drops in systolic blood pressure, increasing the risk of falling.

Environmental hazards in the home are the most common causes of falls. Hazards include objects on the floor, poor lighting, loose rugs, lack of grab bars, poorly located or mounted grab bars and furniture that isn’t sturdy.

To prevent falls, regularly do weight-bearing exercises, use color and contrast to define balance-aiding objects in the home and add contrasting color strips to first and last steps to identify change of levels. Adjust the height of a bed for easy access on and off.

Visit for more information about preventing falls.

Memory loss

As people get older, there is a tendency to blame memory errors on age.

In truth, the memory errors of older adults often have the same causes as those that plague younger people: lack of appropriate effort, interference or distraction, inefficient memory strategies and health problems. Lower memory performance of some older adults also may be due to factors not necessarily associated with normal age changes. For example, older people may not hear as well as younger people because of cautiousness, fatigue, poor health, fear of failure and lack of motivation. Alcohol also can affect thinking and memory.

We can improve our memory by making concentrated efforts to do so as well as making changes in our everyday lives. Eat a well-balanced diet, get physical exercise and keep mentally fit.

Older people may forget how important it is to exercise their memory because they become memory-dependent on their children or spouse. An older person’s self-confidence may weaken because they avoid mental challenges when they feel "too old."

If memory truly resembled a permanent storage bin, our brains would be crowded with every detail of every event we have ever experienced. Instead, the memory system is made for remembering and forgetting. When we want to remember something, we must apply effort.

For more information, visit the Web at