How Dementia Affects the Five Senses

The symptoms of dementia are often hard to spot because there are no specific tests for the disorder. But doctors do know some things about what happens during different phases of the illness.

In the early stages of dementia — usually the mildest form — patients may still be able to take care of themselves. They may be able to cook meals, clean their homes, shop, pay bills, and manage their finances.

During the middle stage of dementia — which lasts anywhere from five to 10 years — your loved one may start telling the same stories again and again. He or she may forget recent events and conversations. And he or she may lose interest in hobbies and activities that once brought pleasure.

At the end stage of dementia, your loved ones’ memory loss becomes severe enough to cause problems with daily living. They may struggle with basic tasks like dressing, bathing, grooming, feeding, toileting, and walking.

Along the way, dementia will affect your loved one’s hearing. Their vision could begin to deteriorate too. Taste, smell, and touch may also suffer. Here, we’re taking a look at how dementia can alter a person’s senses.


The impact of dementia on hearing is often overlooked, even though it affects millions of people every day. While many people assume that those with dementia lose the ability to hear clearly, the truth is that some people with dementia actually retain excellent hearing. They just don’t understand what they hear.

For example, there are many different types of dementia. Some people with Alzheimer’s disease experience memory problems while others struggle with language and speech. In addition, some people who suffer from dementia may have trouble processing sound, especially high-pitched sounds like sirens or alarms. This makes them less likely to respond appropriately to external stimuli.

When someone with dementia hears something out of place, he or she may ignore it because they simply do not recognize what they heard. If you are caring for someone with dementia, you might notice that they seem disinterested in what’s happening around them. You may wonder whether they are ignoring things because they are distracted or because they cannot hear.


Your loved one may experience normal “normal” age-related changes to his or her vision. As people grow older, they begin to notice that objects look different. They may notice that certain colors seem brighter or darker, or objects may appear smaller or larger. This is part of the aging process.

While it’s natural to worry about how your loved one’s vision will change over time, there is no evidence that dementia affects eyesight further than normal, age-related changes. In fact, studies show that people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, actually have better visual acuity than those without MCI.

What dementia does impact is the brain’s ability to interpret what it’s seeing. People with dementia often struggle to understand where things are located in space, making it difficult for them to recognize familiar faces or places. They may become disoriented in unfamiliar surroundings and may feel lost. These changes can make it hard for them to find their way around, resulting in confusion and frustration.


A study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience found that patients suffering from mild cognitive impairment had trouble distinguishing smells. The study authors suggest that smelling problems may stem from damage to the olfactory bulb, part of the brain responsible for processing odors. In addition, studies show that people with Alzheimer’s tend to lose connections between neurons, which could affect their ability to process information.

Researchers believe that the loss of smell could also impact social interactions. For example, someone with Alzheimer’s may not recognize their spouse or children because they don’t smell like themselves anymore. Or they may mistake a stranger for someone they know.


Smell and taste are closely related. They affect each other and are often intertwined. For example, when people with Alzheimer’s disease lose their sense of smell, it can cause them to eat less nutritious foods and possibly put unhealthy items into their mouth. In addition, they may use too much salt, sugar, or spice to try to improve the flavor of what they are eating.

When there are changes in taste caused by dementia, a person may consume spoiled food without realizing it. This may lead to weight gain, dehydration, and malnutrition.

A decrease in the ability to taste can also cause someone with dementia problems to overuse salt, sweeteners, or spices. These add extra flavors to food, but they aren’t necessarily good for you.


As dementia progresses, so does a person’s ability to recognize touch. A lack of sensitivity to temperature, pain, and pressure causes many older adults to become less aware of their surroundings. They might not notice changes in their home, such as leaks, cracks, and broken appliances. They may forget where things are located, or how to use tools. And they may not realize if something is too hot or cold for them.

Touch plays a huge role in creating a sense of comfort and security. For someone with dementia, decreased sensory perception could lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Discover a continuum of care at Oasis Dementia Care

At Oasis Dementia Care, our mission is to provide the highest level of care for our neighbors and to also assist Tristate families that are dealing with dementia. We strive to get to know you and we care about providing the best care possible. If you’re interested in learning more about the community at Oasis Dementia Care, please contact us.


Visit us.

We’d love to meet you. Schedule your tour today and learn more about our Oasis Community.

Skip to content
WE ARE HIRING!  See Open Positions