A new American study shows that adults with weaker command over the five senses face more health challenges than healthy people. This report also suggests that people with greater sensory impairments have a higher risk of early death.
Researchers involved in this study tracked over 3,000 adults aged between 57 and 85 with different levels of sensory impairment. The study lasted five years.
Study authors coined the term "global sensory impairment" (GSI) in their report for convenience. GSI refers to the natural fading away of the five senses as people grow older.
The data from this study showed that people with higher GSI levels were more likely to die than those with lower GSI levels. Also, people with above average GSI were skinnier, had trouble walking, were less likely to exercise, and had more neurological issues.
Doctors hope this study will encourage doctors to give older patients extensive multisensory evaluations with every physical exam. The data from these evaluations could help doctors determine their patients' overall wellbeing with greater accuracy.
Martha McClintock, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, told reporters, "This is the first study to show that decreased sensory function of all five senses can be a significant predictor of major health outcomes." While researchers don't yet know why certain people are more susceptible to GSI than others, Dr. McClintock believes this study proves that there is a direct link between GSI and sickness.
McClintock's study builds on the work of earlier studies that suggested the loss in one sense could lead to increased risk of death. For example, a 2014 study found that a loss of the sense of smell could lead to premature death. Of course, this more recent study shows that no one sense is responsible for the increase in health issues.
Study authors say they will continue to monitor these 3,000-plus patients over the next five years. They believe a 10-year data set will help confirm the connection between the loss of the five senses and increased risk of death.
Also, tech experts at the University of Chicago are hard at work developing an app to help people gauge their sense of smell at home. Doctors hope this and many other apps will allow older people keep tabs on their senses right from their smartphone.
Most of the doctors involved in this study either work or study at the University of Chicago School of Medicine. A few of these researchers include Drs. Jayant Pinto, Megan Huisingh-Scheetz, and Camil Correia.
Anyone can read the full study in the September 24th edition of the Journal of American Geriatrics Society. This article is called, "Global Sensory Impairment Predicts Morbidity and Mortality in Older U.S. Adults."