When you’re looking after someone else, how can you tell if there are problems with their eyes, ears or smile?

As we get older, we're more likely to start having difficulties with our hearing, vision and oral health, even if we've never had any issues before. These signs can often be subtle and the changes gradual. This means that many people who experience hearing loss, visual impairment or dental problems may not even realise there’s an issue.

You should always seek opinions from qualified medical professionals if you have any concerns, but it’s still helpful to be aware of a few signals when caring for an ageing family member or loved one.

Dental health problems

Growing older doesn't have to mean losing teeth, but ageing can often contribute to dental problems. Issues like decreased saliva production and major illness sometimes make it more difficult to properly care for our teeth and gums. Over 20% of Australians over the age of 65 have lost all their teeth, while more than half have gum disease.3

So how do you know if someone might need a little extra dental care? 

  • Persistent bad breath can be an indicator of poor oral hygiene. It can also be a symptom of gum disease, the most common cause of tooth loss.
  • Heightened sensitivity to hot and cold food or beverage can be a sign of a cracked or overly worn tooth.
  • Swollen or bleeding gums are a common symptom of gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease.
  • Receding gums are sometimes a symptom of more advanced gum disease that can lead to tooth loss.
  • Habitual teeth grinding (when awake or asleep) or jaw clenching may indicate a condition called “bruxism.” This needs to be treated in order to avoid putting teeth and jaws under excess strain.
  • Swelling inside the mouth, pain when chewing and/or avoiding food can sometimes point to a mouth ulcer.

Be aware of how many times your loved one visits the dentist. Even if they already have dentures, they can still be at risk for a variety of oral health problems. That means regular check-ups will continue to be important! We typically recommend a check-up every six months, although this may differ based on individual circumstances.

Hearing loss

Age is one of the biggest factors contributing to hearing loss. As early as 45, around one-fifth of Australians have some form of hearing loss, which rises to half of people by age 75. Generally, hearing clinicians recommend a hearing check every two years for people over 60 years old, although this can differ based on individual circumstances.1

Warning signs that someone may be experiencing hearing loss include:

  • difficulty hearing higher-pitched sounds, such as women and children's voices, babies or birds
  • statements often need to be repeated or aren't properly understood
  • difficulty identifying where sounds are coming from
  • leaning in closer to join a conversation
  • avoiding social situations
  • turning up the volume too loud on the television, radio or music players.

If your loved one is hesitant to seek help for hearing loss, be aware that modern hearing aids and devices are very different from what some people imagine. There are common misconceptions that hearing aids are bulky or highly visible, rather than the more discreet, lightweight and finely tuned devices used by hearing specialists today.

To learn more, schedule a hearing test or find a hearing clinician near you, visit hearing.bupa.com.au.

Visual impairment

Not everyone's vision deteriorates as they get older, but the risks of vision problems and eye diseases do tend to increase after the age of 40. These risks becomes greater with each decade after 40. In Australia, almost 95% of people over the age of 55 report having some form of long-term eye condition. 2

Common warning signs of eye conditions include:

  • difficulty seeing details at close range, or needing to peer around objects - this can be an indication of age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
  • bumping into things - this could be due to glaucoma, which affects the peripheral vision and can be a serious danger for drivers
  • changes in visual clarity at different times, which may be a sign of diabetic retinopathy
  • lumps, bleeding or dark patches on the eyelids, which can be a symptom of skin cancer
  • clouded or tinted vision and increased sensitivity to bright light – these are sometimes signs of cataracts
  • a sudden increase of flashes and floaters in the vision, which can be a warning sign of impending retinal detachment.

Many eye conditions develop gradually, making it harder to notice changes or warning signs. That's why it's a good idea to seek eye examinations every two years after the age of 40, and every year after 65.

For more information on eye health and optical care, check out bupaoptical.com.au.