Assessment of sensory function in the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2009 Nov;64 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):i76-85. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbp048. Epub 2009 Jun 23.


Objectives: The National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project assessed functioning of all 5 senses using both self-report and objective measures. We evaluate the performance of the objective measures and model differences in sensory function by gender and age. In the process, we demonstrate how to use and interpret these measures.

Methods: Distance vision was assessed using a standard Sloan eye chart, and touch was measured using a stationary 2-point discrimination test applied to the index fingertip of the dominant hand. Olfactory function (both intensity detection and odor identification) was assessed using odorants administered via felt-tip pens. Gustatory function was measured via identification of four taste strips.

Results: The performance of the objective measures was similar to that reported for previous studies, as was the relationship between sensory function and both gender and age.

Discussion: Sensory function is important in studies of aging and health both because it is an important health outcome and also because a decline in functioning can be symptomatic of or predict other health conditions. Although the objective measures provide considerably more precision than the self-report items, the latter can be valuable for imputation of missing data and for understanding differences in how older adults perceive their own sensory ability.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Bias
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys*
  • Hearing
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Reference Values
  • Sensation*
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Smell
  • Social Behavior*
  • Taste
  • Touch
  • United States
  • Vision, Ocular