21 Aug Does the Sense of Taste and Smell Change in Seniors?
As you age, it is generally assumed you may begin to experience some decline in your vision and hearing. Did you know you may also begin to notice changes in your senses of taste and smell? These two essential senses work very closely to help make food taste delicious. Taste buds in your mouth enable you to enjoy the main flavors of food (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savory) while the sense of smell helps you to take in the aroma of foods to make it more appealing.
Additionally, taste and smell also provide you with a warning of potential danger. This includes the smell of smoke from a fire, or gas leak, to the bad taste of spoiled food. Taste and smell are important to help keep you safe and healthy.
Sense of Taste
According to the National Institutes of Health, at birth, you have about 10,000 taste buds, which regenerate about every two weeks. However, after age 50, you may start to lose them. Information from the National Institutes on Aging points to a few factors in seniors which may lead to loss of taste buds and changes in how food tastes.
- Medications, like antibiotics and pills to lower cholesterol and blood pressure;
- Poor oral hygiene, gum disease, infection in the mouth, or issues with your dentures can leave a bad taste in your mouth that changes the way food tastes;
- Alcohol and smoking;
- Upper respiratory and middle ear infections;
- Radiation therapy for cancers of the head and neck which can make food taste “off” or metallic;
- Exposure to certain chemicals, such as insecticides;
- Head injury;
- Some surgeries to the ear, nose, and throat (such as middle ear surgery) or extraction of the third molar (wisdom tooth).
Changes in taste, especially in seniors, can lead to a decreased desire to eat. This may results in weight loss, malnutrition, social isolation, and depression leading to overall poor health. In addition, in order to make food taste better, you may add more salt which can lead to hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Long-term, excessive salt can also cause fluid retention which may lead to inflammation in different organs of the body.
Sense of Smell
The sense of smell works in tandem with taste. Smell not only increases the desire to eat but also adds to the enjoyment of life. From the fragrance of flowers, to a favorite perfume or scented candle, to the clean, fresh smell of a baby after a bath, your sense of smell makes life richer and happier. On the other side, smells alert you to danger.
As you get older, your sense of smell may fade. Like losing the sense of taste, when you can’t smell your food it may taste dull and bland and you can lose interest in eating.
According to the NIA, the following may contribute to changes in your sense of smell:
- Cold or flu that causes a stuffy nose;
- A harmless growth (called a polyp) in the nose or sinuses that gives you a runny nose;
- Certain medications like antibiotics or blood pressure medicine;
- Radiation, chemotherapy, and other cancer treatments;
- Head injury which can damage nerves related to smell;
- Neurological disorder such as Parkinson’s Disease or dementia.
To add more flavor to your food in a healthy manner try using fresh herbs, a small amount of butter, or olive oil. In addition, you can also add mustard, salsa, hot pepper, onions, garlic, or lemon/lime juice.
Talk to your primary care physician if your sense of smell or taste is changing. You may be referred to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) who can perform a specialized exam and tests to help diagnose the cause. This includes a CT scan or MRI, scratch/sniff tests, and taste/smell comparison tests. Treatment may include stopping/changing medications; correction of medical problem causing issue; surgery to remove any growths contributing to the disorder; or nutrition/lifestyle advice on how best to manage the issue.
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