The Five Senses Matter for Quality of Life

By: Marc Plumart
Oct 16, 2017 12:45 PM ET

The Five Senses Matter for Quality of Life

We get all of our information about the world around us through our five senses, but as we age our senses often diminish. It’s not just that we lose our hearing or have worsened eyesight. Senses of touch, taste and smell can weaken as well. These sensory changes alter the way we experience the world and ultimately impact quality of life.

It is our responsibility, not just as care providers but as a society, to make sure everyone can live their lives to the fullest. Understanding the five senses is a key part of that. Sodexo and our Institute for Quality of Life partnered with the University of Ottawa’s Life Research Institute to deepen our understanding of seniors’ sensory impairments.

We set out to study the senses to ensure that our services have a real and lasting impact on residents. Our goal is to improve quality of life. To do that, we must continually raise the standards for ourselves and our colleagues in the industry.

What we found is a return to what seems basic – our five senses – can create real opportunity for improvement. This study inspires new thinking, from simple changes to technological innovations, to ensure we continually raise the level of care for seniors.

  • Seniors with diminished vision may have difficulty distinguishing between similar colors. Using high-contrast colors helps them see better, which allows them to navigate corridors and see all of the food on their plates.
  • Eighty percent of people over 85 have hearing loss, which can separate seniors from making important daily connections with others. Minimizing background noise from heating and air conditioning systems makes it easier to interact and be a part of conversations.
  • A diminished sense of taste can make eating less pleasurable. Preserving texture and enhancing flavors can bring enjoyment back to eating and help boost nutrition. Almost as important as the pleasure of a meal are the social connections mealtime creates.
  • Robotic technologies are showing promise in care settings. For example, innovations such as pet-like robots are able to sense touch, sound and movement. They stimulate the sense in ways that help reduce stress and further stimulate social connections.

Our work on this topic continues as we build tools to measure and track how sensitive seniors’ environments are to the five senses. We intend to raise the level of care for seniors at home and in long-term care communities.  By creating sense-sensitive environments, we can minimize the impact of sensory disorders and improve quality of life for seniors around the world.