Feature Articles - Aging
Nothing Tastes Good Anymore
Susan Mills-Gray, Nutrition Specialist, Cass County Extension Center, University of Missouri Extension
"That recipe just doesn't have the flavor that I always remembered." You might hear that comment from an older adult. Maybe you've said it yourself! The truth is that the senses of smell, taste and touch may decline gradually with age. Medications and health conditions might alter your flavor perceptions also.
Throughout life, smell and taste affect the quality of life and overall health. We all recognize such simple pleasures: the variety of flavors in a holiday meal, the aromas of bread baking or turkey roasting in the oven, and the sounds of popping popcorn or the sizzle of food on the grill. Food's wonderful flavors encourage a healthy appetite and help stimulate digestion.
At about age 60 or so, smell and taste gradually start to diminish. About a decade later, these sensory changes may be noticed. As with changes in sight and hearing, everyone isn't noticeably affected. As the senses of smell and taste get duller, food may lose some of its flavor, appeal, and pleasure. Some older adults lose interest in eating. Poor nutrition can result when food "just doesn't taste as good as it used to."
Flavor is really several perceptions: the senses of smell and taste, as well as touch (temperature and mouth feel). With aging, taste buds and smell receptors may not be quite as sensitive or numerous. The ability to sense sweet and salty tastes may decline sooner than bitter and sour tastes. That's why many foods may seem bitter, and why some older people reach for the saltshaker and or sugar bowl! Differences in saliva -- composition and amount -- may affect flavor, too.
Age isn't the only reason for changes in taste and smell -- medications and chronic health problems, play their part. Some medicines leave a bitter flavor, which affects saliva production. Some medications can cause nausea, resulting in a loss of appetite. Medications can also suppress taste and smell. Health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and liver disease, may alter taste and smell, too.
- Add color to meals to stimulate appetite with eye appeal
- Use more herbs, spices and lemon juice to add flavor
- Add crunchy textures to stimulate saliva productions
- Include food of different temperatures at each meal
- Chew slowly to stimulate saliva production
- If you smoke -- stop! Smoking diminishes taste
- Avoid overexposure to strong or bitter flavors (i.e. coffee)
Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009