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Welcome back to our 4-part series on Healthy Aging. Part 3 is all about healthy aging for vision and hearing.
Today we are going to look at the importance of vision and hearing in the aging population.
The goal of this 4-part series is to offer practical guidance and strategies to allow the senior population to remain vibrantly healthy so that they can maintain their independence and successfully age in place.
Oftentimes, vision and hearing changes can be so subtle that the decreases in function aren’t noticed until significant change has occurred. The best approach is to be ‘proactive’ rather than ‘reactive’ to minimize the risks of these detrimental changes.
Two common eye diseases that come on slowly and impair vision are:
- Macular Degeneration
The definition of a cataract is: ‘a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye.’ For some people with cataracts, it may be a bit like looking through a frosty or fogged-up window.
Most cataracts develop slowly and don’t disturb your eyesight early on. However, over time, cataracts will eventually interfere with your vision. The most problematic interference is in regards to driving. The clouded vision makes it very difficult to drive a car, especially at night. The inability to drive is a major factor in loss of independence. We want to avoid that, at all costs, if possible.
The good news is that The National Eye Institute and Mayo Clinic have made recommendations to minimize your risk of developing cataracts. The first part of their recommendation is directly related to proper nutrition and is as follows:
“1) Choose a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. Adding a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to your diet ensures that you’re getting many vitamins and nutrients. Fruits and vegetables have many antioxidants, which help maintain the health of your eyes.
A large population study recently showed that a healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals was associated with a reduced risk of developing cataracts. Fruits and vegetables have many proven health benefits and are a safe way to increase the amount of minerals and vitamins in your diet. (This ties in perfectly with holistic nutrition, doesn’t it?)
2) Wear sunglasses. Ultraviolet light from the sun may contribute to the development of cataracts. Wear sunglasses that block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays when you’re outdoors.
3) Reduce alcohol use. Excessive alcohol use can increase the risk of cataracts.”
Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million Americans. Sadly, this impacts more people than cataracts and glaucoma combined.
This is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, known as the macula. This part of the eye is responsible for focusing central vision and controls your ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces or colors, and see objects in fine detail.
There are three stages of Macular Degeneration (AMD).
- Early AMD – Most people do not experience vision loss in the early stage of AMD, which is why regular eye exams are important, particularly if you have more than one risk factor. Early AMD is diagnosed by the presence of medium-sized drusen (yellow deposits beneath the retina).
- Intermediate AMD – At this stage, there may be some vision loss, but there still may not be noticeable symptoms. A comprehensive eye exam with specific tests will look for larger drusen and/or pigment changes in the retina.
- Late AMD – At this stage, vision loss has become noticeable and likely irreversible.
- Getting to this stage will significantly impact your ability to safely drive an automobile along with other activities of daily living.
The biggest risk factor for Macular Degeneration is age. Your risk increases as you age. It is most likely to occur in those 55 and older.
Other risk factors include:
- People with a family history of AMD are at a higher risk.
- Caucasians are more likely to develop the disease than African-Americans or Hispanics/Latinos.
- Smoking doubles the risk of AMD.
The earlier you make healthy eating choices, the more you minimize your risk of developing macular degeneration.
The National Eye Institute has implemented a supplement protocol that ties in perfectly with a holistic health approach. Their strategy includes taking the following nutrients:
- 500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C
- 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E
- 80 mg zinc as zinc oxide
- 2 mg copper as cupric oxide
- 15 mg beta-carotene
- OR 10 mg lutein and 2 mg zeaxanthin
In the world of audiology and geriatrics, it has long been recognized that hearing loss can increase the likelihood of social disengagement and poor quality of life. In addition, there is growing data that those with hearing loss are at higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
How does hearing loss increase the risk of dementia?
Understanding the relationship between hearing loss and dementia is relatively new. Research from several studies demonstrate that even those with mild hearing loss are at a higher risk of developing cognitive decline or dementia compared to their normal hearing counterparts. This research suggests that “auditory deprivation from hearing loss results in a higher cognitive load, which can increase ones’ susceptibility to cognitive decline.” This means that the brain is using so much energy in trying to understand sound that it tires out and weakens.
Since the theme of this 4-part series is Healthy Aging, which allows for ‘aging in place’, you can understand why improving ones’ hearing is so important. We certainly don’t want to increase the risk of developing dementia, which in turn, increases the risk of being placed in a nursing home.
The good news is that there are many nutrients (and foods) that can keep you hearing loud and clear for an entire lifetime. These nutrients include folate, magnesium and Omega 3 fatty acids.
But, before we talk about the health benefits of these nutrients, I want to give a quick anatomy lesson on the ear. We are going to focus on the cochlea and cochlear hairs.
The cochlea is a hollow, spiral-shaped bone found in the inner ear. It plays a key role in the sense of hearing through auditory transduction. This is where sound waves are changed (transduced) into electrical impulses that the brain can interpret as sound. Inside of the cochlea there are around 15,000 microscopic hair cells. These hair cells sense the movement in the cochlea, then catch and carry the sound to the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve sends the movements and vibrations to the brain, which then interprets the sounds we are hearing.
Now that you understand the anatomy of the ear a bit better, you can understand why three of my favorite nutrients are so important.
Your circulation plays an important role in your ears’ health and folate helps to increase circulation in the body. Proper circulation helps keep cochlear hair cells healthy, so it’s understandable that getting enough folate in your diet can help prevent hearing loss. Foods rich in folate include:
Brussels sprouts, kidney beans, liver and eggs.
Magnesium can help maintain nerve function and also help protect the cochlear hair cells when exposed to loud noises. To help keep your ears healthy and minimize the risk of hearing loss (especially noise-induced), eat more of these magnesium-rich foods:
Dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and avocados.
Omega-3s can be overlooked when considering hearing loss, but getting enough of these fatty acids in your diet can help keep your ears functioning properly as you age. This crucial nutrient can help delay or prevent age-related hearing loss, so make sure you add more of the following foods to your plate:
Salmon, tuna, walnuts and flax seeds.
Isn’t it encouraging to know that using holistic health strategies in your daily life can pay such big dividends? Eating a variety of healthy foods on a regular basis can ensure that your vision and hearing will remain vibrant long into your senior years. When you can hear well and see well, you can function well… and that’s the goal.
If you’d like to learn how to be more creative in the kitchen and prepare nourishing meals that will improve the health of your eyes and ears, maybe a call to a natural food chef is just the ticket you’re looking for. But, as always, I’ll provide a recipe to get you started.
Hearty Beef and Bean Soup
Since we are enjoying the cool, fall weather, I’m offering up a warm and hearty beef and bean soup. In addition, this soup is prepared in a slow cooker (crockpot) so it’s easy for even the busiest person to prepare.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds ground beef – this is an ancestral blend of ground beef and ground liver
The liver is well-hidden and no one will know it’s there… but the health benefits shine through
1 onion – chopped
2 cloves garlic – minced
4 carrots – chopped
2 celery stalks – chopped
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 can kidney beans – drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen spinach
1 cup frozen corn
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the ground beef and onion. Add half of salt, pepper and garlic. Cook until the meat is done.
Place meat and onion mixture in the bottom of slow cooker. Add chopped carrot and celery and mix together. Gently pour in tomatoes and stock. Add beans, salt, pepper and thyme. Stir to blend all ingredients.
Cover and cook soup on low for 5 hours.
Uncover and add spinach and corn. Cook for 1 additional hour.
Stir soup, taste to adjust seasoning and serve.
The final issue of this series will focus on the importance of good dental health. See you next time.
About the author
Dr Becky Spacke, teaches holistic nutrition courses at Nutrition Therapy Institute. In addition, she has a private practice, working with people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. You can learn more by visiting www.HealingFromAlz.com
About Nutrition Therapy Institute’s Holistic Nutrition Certification
Nutrition Therapy Institute (NTI) is a leader in holistic nutrition education. Since 1999, NTI has provided students with the highest quality in nutrition training by offering comprehensive holistic nutrition courses online and in-person to help students achieve thriving careers as holistic nutrition therapists in the field of holistic nutrition counseling and wellness. Interested in starting our holistic nutrition courses and earning your holistic nutrition certification? Attend an informational webinar to learn more by signing up HERE.
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