The aging process is assuredly marked with sign posts characterized by loss…the loss of energy and stamina; the loss of memory; the loss of physical strength, flexibility and agility; the loss of tight skin, toned muscles, and shiny hair. It seems the gain of wisdom yielded by many years of experience comes at quite a cost and none of us who lives long enough escapes the consequences of aging. The loss of taste in the elderly is yet another example.
The loss of taste is not as heralded as the others. Think about it. How many TV commercials have you ever seen touting the latest drug, product, or technique to enhance or recover one’s loss of taste?
The loss of taste is gradual and is most often associated with another loss…the loss of smell. Although there are certainly conditions that cause a permanent loss of taste, the loss is typically temporary because the cause can be traced and corrected. Otherwise, it is most often the sense of smell that results in the loss of taste in the elderly and, unfortunately, there is no treatment for the gradual loss of smell that occurs with aging.
Without the ability to smell, and therefore, taste the food we eat, we are left only with the feeling of fullness from which to derive satisfaction. A large part of the pleasure of eating is diminished or distorted, making meal time less enjoyable and therefore less important. In some cases, meals are forgotten or deliberately skipped, contributing to poor nutrition, weight loss, and even greater loss of energy and stamina. Sufferers may attempt to enhance flavor with more salt or sugar, producing negative impacts on other health conditions. Others may cope by overeating, going from one food to the next hoping to finally find something with flavor…a depressing scenario to be sure.
Since nothing can be done to treat this condition, the best that can be done for aging individuals is to have family or professional caregivers preparing meals, encouraging them to eat, and reminding them of the necessity of nutrition in spite of the missing aroma and flavor. Unfortunately staying as healthy as possible has to become the primary motivator for eating vs. the pleasurable event it may have been in earlier years.