Food has always been the main attraction at family reunions regardless of culture and race, and it is especially prominent in Jen’s family.
Today is the day that Jen picks up her mom from the nursing home, and welcomes her back home. Jen has put a lot of effort into preparing this family reunion dinner, and she had been studying recipes for the past few weeks, just to make sure her mom would be satisfied.
The dinner went well, except for the fact that Jen’s mom only ate a little and finished eating very soon after the dinner had started. Jen asked her mom if the food didn’t taste good, and her mom replied: “my taste buds arent as strong as before, not because of covid or anything else; my sense of taste has been getting weaker and weaker over the years.”
This is very normal among seniors. In fact, nearly 5% of seniors who are over 75 years old have chronic issues with their sense of smell. Loss of smell and taste occurs when people enter their 60s, and some start as early as 40s.
What Causes Loss of Smell and Taste?
Loss of smell and taste can be attributed to many reasons. Certain medications that treat cardiovascular disease that contain beta blockers and ACE inhibitors, may cause lose of senses in seniors. Also, other common causes such as aging, poor dental hygiene, nasal and sinus problems, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and smoking, etc. are all correlated to loss of smell and taste in elderly people.
Consequence of Loss of Smell and Tast
Our five senses are gifts from nature, and a disappearance of any one of them would lead to serious consequences.
Our smell is linked to sections of the brain that process emotions and memories, and it may alert us to dangers such as gas leaks, fires, or rotting food. It can also trigger pain signals to be sent to our brain when we smell or taste anything unpleasant, as it could be a warning that something horrible is about to happen. For example, some polluted water may taste metallic. If seniors drink a glass of water without being aware of a metallic taste, the chemicals may put them at risk of metal accumulation in their bodies. Therefore, loss of smell could cause safety issues such as food poisoning and chemical poisoning.
Change in Dietary Habit
Flavour is a combination of taste and smell, so changes in the senses could also change someone’s food preferences and eating patterns. Seniors with a loss of taste would tend to “over-salt” their food, which is linked to high blood pressure. Also, a loss of interest in certain foods can cause malnutrition, which would cause substantial weight loss in seniors. So, if you notice your loved one skipping meals and slimming down, it is better to get checked out.
Decreased Quality of Life
Food brings happiness, and that’s why human beings are so enthusiastic about food. If an individual experiences loss of smell and taste, feasts are no longer appealing, and he or she may find it hard to reminisce by the smell of certain foods.
Smells have the power to evoke deep feelings and memories in humans. So, one’s quality of life might be severely hampered by the diminished or distorted perception of smell.
How to Help Your Loved One with Change in Sense of Smell & Taste
First and foremost, get checked by a doctor. You can book a nasal examination for your loved one to see if there’s inflammation or something else, such as COVID-19. Sometimes it emerges from collective issues, and loss of smell is just a signal of more troubles down the road.
Encourage Him or Her to Eat
A loss of smell and taste would alter one’s appetite. In that, encouraging your loved one to savor foods becomes a vital topic here. Making social events and family gatherings is a good way to help seniors eat more food than usual. Also, you can try to use more herbs and spices that stimulate their appetite and increase food flavours without increasing blood pressure. Moreover, food is better served hot than cold in terms of its flavour. However, watch the temperature carefully so it won’t be too hot and burn your loved one’s tongue and throat – the best temperature served is about 150 F.
Follow Nutrition Guides
In our previous blog post, “Nutrition Guides for Seniors”, we have provided nutrition requirements and macronutrient charts for seniors. You can use the chart for planning for tasty meals for your loved one. Eating balanced meals is essential for seniors, no matter if they have lost their smell or not.
Label Foods with Dates Clearly
Since some seniors aren’t able to distinguish rotten or spoiled food by smell (as the look of food may not change much as they go bad), it is important to label fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, meat, and other foods with their purchase date, and best before date CLEARLY. Write the date in a bigger size so your loved one will notice.
Make Sure the Gas Detectors and Fire Alarms are Working
Again, guaranteeing your loved one’s safety at home is the primary thing we should focus on. In case he or she may be forgetful, or isn’t able to smell any “dangers”, you need to be proactive. Install and make sure gas detectors and fire alarms are in good working condition to greatly relieve your tension when you are away.