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Eating & the Senses

If sight and smell are the ante into the eating game then taste is what “keeps ‘em coming back for more.” Truth is, all three senses are important at any age but especially as people get older.

Vision can begin to decline in the fourth decade of life. We eat first with our eyes – if food does not look appetizing it may not be consumed. For someone who has poor vision the challenge not seeing their food can certainly lead to a diminished interest in eating. For an individual that is blind not being able to identify food from non-food or spoiled food can be deadly. Serving foods of varying colors at meal time helps meet variety and creates visual stimulation.

Good smells coming from the kitchen tend to make people hungry. However, it is estimated that 75% of people over 80 years old have a significant olfactory impairment. This impairment may mean the sense of smell is weak or it could be distorted – either way it is an interruption to eating pleasures. To make good smells that can help boost appetite choose meal times to bake off breads and desserts like pies, cobblers, or cookies.

Taste acuity also changes as people age – usually starting in the 60’s. Medicine can also distort taste and over 50% of seniors are taking more than five medications daily. The sense of sweetness is maintained better than salty which explains why desserts seem to be the favored mealtime dish with older folks. Older taste buds tend to need more flavor, stronger flavor and more distinct flavors. One solution to address taste change is to focus on recipes with flavorful seasonings. Herbs and spices are an excellent way to add stronger flavors to recipes.

Ref: Shiffman S. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2007;66:331–345.

Chernoff R. Nutr Clin Pract. 2003;18:12-20.

DiMaria-Ghalili RA. Nutr Clin Pract. 2014;29:420-427