ELDER MUSIC: Willy DeVille
A Departure from Elder Issues

Age-Related Loss of Smell and Taste

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.

Comments

I once lost my hearing AND sense of smell for a few days due to sinus infection. Yikes, couldn't even detect the Vicks Va-po-Rub! The day I dipped my nose into a jar of peanut butter and found myself cured I was over the moon. Loss of smell and taste probably also contributes to older people often being under-nourished and not going out for meals with friends as often -- alas.

I find myself pouring ketchup on everything. It's disgusting.

So this explains an older friend of mine whose house smells like a pig sty, and also those older people who pour on the cologne or aftershave.

My disappointment is that things just don't taste normal to me. Food I used to enjoy tastes odd and it is no longer pleasurable. And I try to avoid overdosing in perfume. because I can barely smell it now.

Old age is losing one damned thing after another.

What has happened to me is change. Sweets don't taste right. I still want some sweet thing, but when I taste it, I am disappointed. I taste a lot of sweets as too, too sweet. And if I take strong antihistamines, and my mouth gets too dry, everything tastes horrible.

I suspect that tasting changes are made worse by the meds we take, but I don't know this for sure. And I am sure advancing age mutes taste and smell as well.

The taste-smell-aging phenomena may be more individual than the Mayo Clinic advice states.

I smoked quite heavily for 50 years. At about age 55 I noticed a decline in my sense of smell, but no change in taste. After quitting smoking 15 years ago, there was no noticeable further decline in my sense of smell and still none in taste.

Now a month from age 80, I believe my sense of taste is as good as it ever was and I still notice no new change in the sense of smell.

So, take heart younger readers. Those declines in taste and smell everyone considers inevitable may not happen to you, or may not occur until you become very old.

Bah humbug!

My taste and smell are still ok - it's my hearing that is getting worse. I spent a lot of money on a hearing aid that is not working. My Dr. keeps telling me, that's the way it is and trying another type will only cost me more money and not be effective.

Like Darlene said, "Old age is losing one damned thing after another."

Darlene, your last sentence cracked me up so bad!

Thank goodness I wasn't eating crackers..

The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor
by Mark Schatzker (Goodreads Author)

The description of loss of flavor in exchange for high yield was very well explained and supported.

I eat tomatoes all year and especially during the summer but the taste is gone. I assumed it was age related, but not so sure after reading this book.

Strange that I knew all this and yet wasn't making the connection between what I knew and what was actually happening to me. I knew food didn't taste the way it once did but I attributed this to the loss of virtually all the cooking skills I once had. In recent months, however, this missing sense has caused me to stop bothering with actual meals altogether. I have breakfast, because you have to have something with coffee, but at "dinner time" it's all just too much trouble for the slight benefit (aside from nutrition, of course), so I find myself making a meal of peanut butter crackers and V-8 juice or a piece of bread and some cheese. Plus, I'm embarrassed to admit, a cookie or some ice cream because sweets, especially chocolate, can still stimulate my ancient taste buds. That, of course, explains why I haven't seen any weight loss with my new bad eating habits.

I have a freezer full of foods---turkey, meatballs, fish, every vegetable imaginable as well as fresh veggies in the fridge waiting in vain to be roasted or added to soups. Periodically, I cull the food supply and toss enough to feed a family of four for a week. Shame on me. I hereby resolve, if I can't bring myself to prepare meals for myself, to at least stop buying food in the deluded hope that I'm going to use it. I probably should just buy some giant bags of cookies and a big bottle of vitamins and give up on the idea that I need real food. After all, I AM surviving on this awful diet---so far, anyway.

And what about the well-know connection of smell to memory? A particular whiff of perfume reminds me of my mother, and there are other scents that have a deep association for me. I'd miss the smell of food, but I'd really mourn the loss of smell as a memory trigger. I'm think I'm okay on smell and taste, but my hearing is definitely not what it was.

I'm in big trouble if I have to resort to hot sauce. I don't like hot, peppery, spicey things at all. So far I'm okay, I think, but if taste and smell fade gradually, how would I know? I guess as long as I'm noticing that cabbage and broccoli stink up the house, I'm okay.

Well, guess I have loss of taste and smell to look forward to--I've already lost the abundant energy, mind and memory I once had--and hearing is probably on its way. Although at almost-79 I'm lucky to be basically healthy (except for "nuisance" ailments that can sap quality of life at times), I totally agree with Darlene's statement. It's just a matter of "What next?" It is what it is, but I don't have to like it!

Oh, Darlene! You said it perfectly!

I can’t say that my sense of smell or taste has suffered to any real degree with my aging. Of course, for me personally, that brings with it a bit of bad news and well, even more bad news.

First let me talk about smell. Being as discrete as I can regarding the subject, when it comes to the passing of gas it is my understanding that the objectionable smell that sometimes accompanies that basically uncontrollable body function is actually caused by our bodies Sulfur content. Now I’m not an expert on this subject mind you (I always thought it was the Methane) but apparently since I have reached the ripe old age of 74, no pun intended of course, my Sulfur intake has apparently doubled, perhaps even tripled. Either that or, unlike many of my elder peers, my sense of smell has not decreased but rather increased incrementally with my aging.

And as for my taste, give me any food or snack that has not been duly baptized with the salt of this earth and I will make a heck of a terrible face, immediately refusing to partake any further in the eating festivities surrounding that particular item. So I guess that is one of those ‘Catch 22’ situations where it is good to still have an acute sense of taste but I will probably end up dying of some terrible disease which is caused by a high sodium intake.

Given my two personal examples set forth here in my response to your post Ronni, it would seem that at least in my case, such a loss in those two senses would be a blessing. I and any unfortunate guest wouldn’t have to step outside in the cold so often and I wouldn’t die from an excess of Sodium intake. But for now, for better or worse my taste and smell senses seem to be alive and well and I will just have to deal with it! :)

Alan G, I just HAD to go back and read the rest of the comments, and now I'm laughing my a$$ off in the library, surrounded by serious faced studying students.

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