Engaging All Senses: A Key to Brain Health

The human body's sensory system is intricate and profoundly connected to cognitive function. From vision to hearing, smell, taste, and touch, engaging our senses is not just about experiencing the world around us; it's about preserving our mental well-being.

Recent research based on 2967 included participants showed that older adults with moderate to severe distance vision issues were 72 percent more likely to have dementia. This startling statistic underscores the importance of prioritizing vision health. It's more than just about seeing clearly; it's about optimizing both sight and overall mental health. 

Hearing is another sense that has a profound impact on cognitive function. Untreated hearing loss has been associated with a higher incidence of dementia in older adults. Various hypotheses have been proposed to explain this link, from the diversion of cognitive resources to auditory processing to social isolation resulting from hearing loss. The latest aging research is leading scientists to believe that hearing loss may actually be a cause of cognitive decline. 2020 Lancet paper lists hearing loss as one of the top risk factors for dementia.  More than 50 % of patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia (ADRD) remain undiagnosed. In a recent study, variables associated with increased risk of ADRD were “hearing impairment” and “impaired patient ability in the use of telephone.”

Even the sense of smell is connected to cognitive well-being. Olfactory impairment has been shown to be predictive of conversion from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer's disease with 85.2% sensitivity. A recent study on the benefits of aromatherapy while sleeping has shown potential positive effects on memory. Such findings broaden our understanding of how engaging our senses can deter dementia and improve cognitive function.

Associations between dementia and taste have been also identified.

Expressive physical touch combined with verbalization has also shown promising results in reducing anxiety and dysfunctional behavior in patients with dementia. This simple, cost-effective practice can greatly enhance the quality of life for these patients, emphasizing the importance of human connection and sensory engagement.

Recent epidemiological research has linked the decline in multiple sensory functions with an increased risk of dementia. Music therapy, aromatherapy, massage and multisensory stimulation were recommended for the management of behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD), even before the mechanisms behind such interventions were understood.


REFERENCES


Killeen OJ, Zhou Y, Ehrlich JR. Objectively Measured Visual Impairment and Dementia Prevalence in Older Adults in the US. JAMA ophthalmology. 2023 Jul 13.

Livingston G, Huntley J, Sommerlad A, Ames D, Ballard C, Banerjee S, Brayne C, Burns A, Cohen-Mansfield J, Cooper C, Costafreda SG, Dias A, Fox N, Gitlin LN, Howard R, Kales HC, Kivimäki M, Larson EB, Ogunniyi A, Orgeta V, Ritchie K, Rockwood K, Sampson EL, Samus Q, Schneider LS, Selbæk G, Teri L, Mukadam N. Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission. Lancet. 2020 Aug 8;396(10248):413-446. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30367-6. Epub 2020 Jul 30. PMID: 32738937; PMCID: PMC7392084.

Zolnoori M, Barrón Y, Song J, Noble J, Burgdorf J, Ryvicker M, Topaz M. HomeADScreen: Developing Alzheimer's disease and related dementia risk identification model in home healthcare. International Journal of Medical Informatics. 2023 Jul 13:105146.

Woo CC, Miranda B, Sathishkumar M, Dehkordi-Vakil F, Yassa MA, Leon M. Overnight olfactory enrichment using an odorant diffuser improves memory and modifies the uncinate fasciculus in older adults. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 2023 Jul 24;17:1200448.

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