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Sense of Smell & How it Changes with Age

Sense of Smell & How it Changes with Age

Posted By || 6-Jul-2016

It is normal to experience a broad range of changes as our minds and bodies age. Some are good, but some present challenges. Some of these changes have to do with our physicality and strength while others affect our mind and memory. Others yet have to do with our senses. Changes in the senses of smell, touch, and taste are a common result of aging because nerve endings and taste buds diminish with age. In addition, factors such as smoking, certain diseases and medications, and exposure to harmful airborne contaminants can increase our risk of olfactory impairment. In fact, studies reveal that between approximately 62% and 75% of seniors aged 80 and over have significant olfactory impairment.

Why Does My Sense of Smell Change with Age?

Taste and smell are senses that work in tandem. Your tongue has about 10,000 taste buds, which detect a wide range of tastes, from sweet and salty to bitter and more. These taste buds work with the nerve endings in your nostrils. Together, your senses of taste and smell allow you to enjoy good food and drinks, and appreciate the smell of a pine tree or of a fresh loaf of bread. These senses also play a warning role and protect you from dangers such as smoke, a gas leak, or even from eating foods that have gone bad.

Over time, your sense of taste and smell may become less sensitive. Taste buds decrease in number and even shrink in size. Dry mouth—when the mouth produces an insufficient amount of saliva—is also a common problem for seniors aged 60 and over. Dry mouth can also affect your sense of taste. Similarly, your sense of smell may be impacted by diminished nerve endings and mucus in your nostrils. Mucus actually plays an important role—it “traps” smells in your nose so that your nerve endings can detect them, while also cleaning your nerve endings from “old” smells. Decreases in mucus production can result in a diminished sense of smell.

How Can I Protect My Sense of Smell?

Tobacco, certain diseases, and exposure to dangerous airborne contaminants can increase your risk of olfactory loss. Some medicines can also impair your sense of smell. Speak with your doctor about how your current prescriptions could be impacting your ability to smell.

What You Should Know About a Diminished Sense of Smell

It is important to be aware of the effects a diminished sense of smell can have on your life:

  • Weight loss – Losing weight rapidly or losing too much weight can be very dangerous and bad for your health. A diminished sense of taste and smell can adversely affect your weight and nutrition by compromising your enjoyment of taste and eating. Consider preparing food in new ways or using new spices that allow you to enjoy your meals. Monitor your weight and nutrition and talk with your doctor about ways to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Safety – Your sense of smell helps protect you from fire and gas leaks and promotes a healthy appetite. It’s important to be aware of how your safety might be compromised if you have lost your sense of smell. For example, install a gas detector and smoke detectors with loud alarms in your home.

Contact Our Aging Team at LifeCare

This post is a continuation of our series on Healthy Aging in 2016! Keep checking back to the LifeCare blog for continued posts in this series on aging and how it affects your body, health, and senses. Questions about aging well? Contact LifeCare Home Health & In-Home Services.

Categories: General

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