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SEE HEAR

Which of the five senses do you value most? The answer may change as you age

By Corinne Purtill & Dan Kopf

We experience the world as a symphony of stimuli collected by the senses, though the influence of those various inputs changes over time.

Technological advances like cochlear implants and Lasik surgery have made it possible for some people’s sensory experiences to improve. In most cases, however, sensory acuity diminishes through the natural process of aging.

We don’t get to choose which of our senses hold out the longest or how fast or slow those changes happen. But data from the polling firm YouGov clarifies which senses people value most. Like the senses themselves, those preferences change with age.

Vision is the sense people are most reluctant to lose. This preference gets stronger with age: 58% of respondents age 18 to 24 say they would miss sight the most, compared with 71% of those aged 55 or older. Hearing is the next most valuable, followed by taste, touch, and smell. The data is based on a survey of nearly 20,000 US adults.

The responses of older participants in this survey may be informed by experience. By age 50, most people have experienced some change in all of the senses. Perhaps with age the question is less about which senses you fear to lose and more about which ones you are grateful to have.