Considering what serious things can and do go wrong with people in old age, I don't want to make a big deal of this but it's been more than a decade that my senses of taste and smell have been close to non-existent.
The Mayo Clinic website tells us that “Some loss of taste and smell is natural with aging, especially after age 60.” Yep. That's certainly true for me.
Age-related loss of these two senses cannot be reversed, according to the Mayo Clinic. Other contributing factors include
• Nasal and sinus problems, such as allergies, sinusitis or nasal polyps
• Certain medications, including beta blockers and angiotensin-converting enzyme
• Dental problems
• Cigarette smoking
• Head or facial injury
• Alzheimer's disease
• Parkinson's disease
I always suspected that my years of cigarette smoking contributed to my loss and now I know. Here is a short crash course that includes some other causes of smell and taste loss:
As the video skims over too quickly, loss of smell can be dangerous. We might miss noticing a gas leak, smoke from a house fire, spoiled food, etc. which gives extra support to the need for emission detectors and smoke alarms as we grow older, plus paying careful attention to use-by dates on food.
Recently, there has been a spate of news stories about how loss of smell may be a sign of a more serious disorder.
What they are talking about is Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and we are cautioned to take notice of any change in smell or taste. WebMD advises:
”If you experience a loss of smell that you can't attribute to a cold or allergy or which doesn't get better after a week or two, tell your doctor.”
Since smell and taste have been mostly absent from my life for so long without undue indications of serious health problems, I'm not burdening my physician or myself with an extra visit. You should make up your own mind about that.
Without relating to Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, another study, reported recently in the Washington Post, suggests that an impaired sense of smell “might” be an indicator of cognitive decline. I'm ignoring that one too because unless you, dear readers, are not telling me something, my mind is still in relatively good working order.
The website of the University of Connecticut Taste and Smell Clinic (who knew there is such a thing) explains the associated behavior of our taste and smell senses:
”While taste and smell are two separate chemical senses, both contribute to the experience of flavor...Flavor is a combination of smell, taste, spiciness, temperature, and texture.
“Most of the flavor of food comes from smell, so when you are unable to smell you have lost much of your ability to experience flavor.”
No one needed to tell me that. In addition, as poor as my ability to taste and smell had become over so many years, they all but disappeared entirely five years ago when I was presented with a full denture. What none of the articles I read about this kind of loss have noted is how much of taste, not to mention texture, of food, is handled by the upper palate of the mouth.
All the above is why there is always a bottle of Sriracha Sauce in my cupboard and why I bit the bullet to pay way more money than I reasonably can afford for teeth implants so that I can get rid of the full upper palate denture. (Coming soon.)
That University of Connecticut page has some additional suggestions I can attest to that will help improve flavor when taste and smell have faded:
• Add more texture or crunchiness to your food
• Increase the heat temperature and/or spiciness
• Add color or variety to your meals to make them more visually enjoyable.
Of course, none of that helps my inability to smell flowers unless I stick my nose deeply into the blossom. Even then, the fragrance is weak. For many years each spring, I bought large bundles of lilacs to enjoy their magnificent aroma in my home for a week or so in the spring. There is no point now and I miss that private, little ritual in which I indulged myself for so long.
One thing these experts do not address about smell – not that I found, anyway – is that it does not decline uniformly. On the one hand, cleaning the cat's litter box each day is easy – it's hardly stinky to me at all nowadays.
On the other, I apparently have retained in full force the cell or sensory node or whatever it is for cantaloupe. I can smell that cut fruit from one end of the house to the other and emanating from the kitchen trash until I walk it out to the garbage cans.