Seniors and the Loss of Smell
Disorders affecting the sense of smell are common and affect up to 18% of the general population, most of which has to do with seniors and the loss of smell. Regardless of the age of the person experiencing this loss, quality of life is hampered, however, for the aging population, its ramifications are multiplied.
Presbyosmia is the technical name for the unpreventable loss of smell related to aging, and it contributes to the risks associated with elderly individuals living alone. Here are some examples as to why that is:
- The soup heating on the stove has been forgotten and the smell of something burning goes undetected.
- The leak from the gas burner used to heat the soup goes unnoticed.
- The foul odor that is released every time the refrigerator door is opened cannot be discerned.
- A neighbor points out that something in the refrigerator is obviously spoiled, but the exact foods causing the odor cannot be distinguished from other items.
- Spoiled food is ingested, potentially causing food poisoning, diarrhea, or vomiting.
While these may be common scenarios for anyone experience a loss of smell, regardless of age, the elderly are at even greater risk. Reasons for this include:
- Once a burning pot is discovered, the knowledge of how to put out the fire may have been forgotten, or the reaction time for distinguishing it may be too late to minimize the damage.
- The trips to the grocery store are difficult to navigate, thus contributing to the likelihood that some food will spoil before it can be eaten, and replacing it with fresh food becomes a challenge.
The loss of smell also affects the ability to taste, which can create further health issues for the elderly, especially those with medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure:
- The meat loaf that used to be delicious is now bland, so more salt is added to enhance the potential for flavor.
- The oatmeal normally eaten for breakfast is no longer desirable and a doughnut becomes the replacement.
- Since food has no flavor, the effort to cook is a waste of time. Eating is done only to stave off hunger and anything available fits the bill, regardless of nutritional value. Eventually, eating is no longer a priority, or…
- Favorite foods are no longer satisfying, so more and more food is consumed in the search for something that tastes good.
The burden placed on families of elderly individuals can be eased somewhat through the following tips:
- Install a smoke alarm in the home and make sure the phone number to the fire department is very visible and accessible.
- Hire a professional caregiver who can prepare nutritional meals that can be heated in a microwave when the caregiver leaves, create a calendar that marks the expiration date of each item in the refrigerator, and throw away those items on the date indicated.
While none of these tactics can restore their sense of smell, the reassurance they could provide can have a positive impact on morale and safety for seniors who live alone.