Julian Whitaker, MD
Although memory loss heads the list of concerns among aging Canadians, vision and hearing loss are far more likely to afflict us as we get older. These common changes can impair your ability to drive, read and enjoy simple pleasures.
Although memory loss heads the list of concerns among aging Canadians, vision and hearing loss are far more likely to afflict us as we get older.
These common changes can impair your ability to drive, read and enjoy simple pleasures. Fortunately, you can do several things to preserve your eyesight and hearing.
UV Rays = Vision Loss
The single greatest contributor to vision loss is free radical damage, which accumulates in the eyes due to a lifetime of exposure to damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight.
Plants, which have even greater UV exposure, have built-in protection against free radicals: carotenoids. These phytonutrients, found in brightly coloured vegetables and fruits, also nourish and protect your eyes. The most important carotenoids for the eyes are beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which absorb harmful radiation, helping prevent macular thinning and degeneration. Research shows that simply eating leafy greens and other foods rich in these protective nutrients can stave off vision loss.
Supplements are a Must
Nutritional supplements offer significant protection against age-related vision problems. In the 2001 Age-Related Eye Disease Study in Archives of Opthamology, supplementation with zinc, vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene reduced the risk of macular degeneration in high-risk patients by 20 percent compared to placebo. Long-term supplementation with vitamin C cut the risk of cataracts by 77 percent in one large 1997 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, while bilberry, which improves nighttime vision, slows the progression of cataracts in 97 percent of patients when used in combination with vitamin E.
Loud Noise = Hearing Loss
Though hearing loss may not spell an end to independence, it can dramatically reduce quality of life. The primary cause of age-related hearing loss is damage to the hair cells in the inner ear that transmit sounds to the brain. Noise literally blows these delicate hair cells away. Any condition that impairs blood flow, such as atherosclerosis, high blood pressure or diabetes, contributes to hair cell damage; however, the chief culprit is exposure to loud noise.
Any sound level over 85 decibels may cause hearing damage. (City traffic measures 80 decibels, a lawnmower 90 decibels, and a power saw 110 decibels, a level that can cause permanent hearing loss after just two minutes of exposure). Use earplugs whenever you are exposed to loud noise. If you use a portable radio or CD player with earphones, always play it at half volume or lower.
Nutritional Deficiencies can Impair Hearing
A 1998 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women over age 60 with hearing loss had 38 per cent lower levels of vitamin B12 and 31 percent lower levels of folate than women with normal hearing. Vitamin D deficiencies also produce hearing loss that can be reversed by supplementation with this nutrient.
Other nutrients may also prove helpful for age-related hearing loss, particularly for those with poor circulation. Both ginkgo biloba and vinpocetine enhance blood flow through the tiniest capillaries, helping transport nutrients to the fragile hair cells.
Daily Supplements for Eye Health