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
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.