It is often said that we eat with or through our eyes. The same can be said of taste and smell.
Eating involves 2 senses working together – taste and smell. Your taste buds identify flavour – sweet, salty, sour, bitter. Your sense of smell allows enjoyment of food via the aroma. If your sense of smell alters, your tastes may too.
Normal tastes occur when molecules released by chewing stimulate special sensory cells in the mouth and throat, and these in turn, send messages to the brain where taste profiles are identified.
At birth, most people have between 2000 and 10000 taste buds. Taste buds are replaced every 1-2 weeks, but after the age of 50, these cells lose both their sensitivity and their ability to regenerate. At the same time, the sense of smell may decline.
This loss of taste and smell can have a significant effect on “Quality of life”, often leading to decreased appetite and poor nutrition. This can then cause a number of health problems.
It is usual to experience a loss in taste and smell after the age of 60. Other factors can contribute to loss of taste and smell also, including:
While it isn’t possible to reverse age-related loss of taste and smell, a Doctor may be able to assist with some of the other causes. It is important to share any concerns with the Doctor.
Commonly, people lose their sensitivity to sweet, salty and umami flavours first, while their sensitivity to sour and bitter is heightened as they age. This explains why we often observe the older person adding extra salt and sugar to their meals. Additionally, they are often heard to say “everything tastes bitter or sour”.
Try some of the following dietary strategies to manage this, so that food continues to be enjoyable and something to look forward to, while helping maintain good nutrition and health.
It is important to be more liberal with the diet of older persons and to not restrict intake of salt or sugar, unless clinically indicated.
If you are finding your food too bland
If you have a bitter or metallic taste in your mouth
If you are suffering from a dry mouth
If you have lost or a reduced sense of smell
A special note about thrush.
If the older person is suffering from an acute change in taste as well as a white coating on their tongue they may have oral thrush which can be treated, with a return to normal tastes, once resolved.