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Smell and taste in old age

The research team discovered that the impairment of the ability to smell and taste does not merely reflect an effect of age.

A team headed by Claire Sulmont-Rossé from the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Dijon, France, a member of the European Sensory Network (ESN), investigated the sense of smell and taste of 559 people between the ages of 65 and 99. In almost half of the cases, both senses functioned as well as ever. However, in 57% of those tested, either the sense of smell or taste, and in some cases both senses, were impaired. This can lead to a decline in appetite and meal enjoyment. Consequently, to help prevent the onset of malnutrition and malnourishment, there is a need to develop food products that fit the sensory capacities of the elderly.

Funded by the French government, the objective of this project was to develop sensory strategies for improving food intake in senior citizens at risk of malnutrition. The research team  discovered that the impairment of the ability to smell and taste does not merely reflect an effect of age; it is also related to events that are associated with ageing, such as the onset of disease, medications, and the decline in cognitive abilities. Furthermore, scientists have proved that the senses of smell and taste change independently of one another. It appears that the two sensory systems are subject to separate modification processes.

Sulmont-Rossé proposes that this knowledge can be used by both the food industry and operators of homes for the aged to develop foods with pleasing texture and appearance; it should be possible for even those people with impaired sensory abilities to enjoy healthy meals.


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