US Pharm. 2016;41(1):11.

The malfunctioning of the sensory organs, particularly those of smell, taste, vision, and hearing, can have a significant effect on a person’s sense of well-being. For all such disorders, there are disparities between men and women in terms of prevalence.

Smell and Taste Disorders: The senses of smell and taste work together to provide food flavor perception and palatability as they mediate the body’s food intake. According to the National Health Interview Survey, the prevalence of chronic smell disorders in the United States is 1.4% and the prevalence of chronic taste disorders is 0.6%. More than 2.7 million people in the U.S. have olfactory problems; the prevalence rate increases exponentially with age, and almost 40% of persons with a smell or taste disorder are aged ≥65 years. Dysosmia (smell dysfunction) is common in patients with Parkinson’s disease, and phantosmia (olfactory hallucination) occurs in 90% of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Vision Disorders: Even with the use of prescription glasses or contact lenses, 9% of adults have vision problems, and 14% of adults in poor families have vision disorders compared with 7% of those in better-off families. Women are more likely than men to have vision problems, as are unemployed adults compared with currently employed adults. Among adults aged <65 years, those covered by Medicaid are more likely than those with private or no insurance to have vision disorders, even with glasses or contact lenses. Among adults aged ≥65 years, those covered by both Medicare and Medicaid were more likely to have vision disorders compared with those covered by Medicare alone or private insurance.

Hearing Disorders: One in eight people (13%, or 30 million) aged ≥12 years has hearing loss in both ears, and 2% of persons aged 45 to 54 years and 8.5% of those aged 55 to 64 years have disabling hearing loss. Nearly 25% of persons aged 65 to 74 years and 50% of those aged ≥75 years have disabling hearing loss. Among individuals aged ≥70 years with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than 1 in 3 (30%) has ever used them; even fewer individuals aged 20 to 69 years (16%) who could benefit have ever used them. The proportion of persons aged >70 years with hearing loss who have ever used hearing aids is 30.5%. Fifteen percent of persons (37.5 million) aged ≥18 years report some trouble hearing, and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders estimates that 15% of Americans (26 million people) aged 20 to 69 years have high-frequency hearing loss from noise exposure during work or leisure activities.

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