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Aging Gracefully: Changes in the Taste Buds and Sense of Smell

Taste buds: Who really gives them a thought? Once you learned about them in grade school, you likely did not consider them the reason for food tasting good or bad, sweet or salty, spicy or mild. When you eat, you either like foods you are trying, or you do not.

You are born with 9,000 taste buds, which work in tandem with your sense of smell as your sense of taste relies primarily on odors. Your sense of smell and taste change as you age. Between the ages of 40 and 50, the number of taste buds decreases, and the rest begin to shrink, losing mass vital to their operation. After age 60, you may begin to lose the ability to distinguish the taste of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter foods. The sense of smell does not begin to fade until after the age of 70; its decrease exacerbates the loss of taste for those affected. The exact cause of these changes is up for debate. However, the actual reason taste and smell decline with age may not be as important as the resulting effects it has on you and your nutritional balance.

For many, losing the senses of taste and smell means diminished appetites. The aroma of a delicious meal is what causes you to long for a taste. If food suddenly does not smell or taste as it once did, you may not eat as much as you should. You may lose interest in fruits, vegetables and other dishes that provide the nourishment critical to maintaining good health. Because saliva production also diminishes with age, you may also experience dry mouth and have difficulty swallowing. If you are elderly, this can sometimes mean that eating becomes more of a chore than an enjoyment, again possibly leading to malnourishment.
An additional factor is that if you do lose your sense of smell, you are at greater risk of failing to detect the scent of rancid food or poisonous gas. However, there are a some steps you can take to overcome these obstacles. If you are losing your sense of smell, install visual gas detection monitors that will alert you if any harmful gas is present in your home. Check the expiration dates on all food before consuming them, and if a container does not list an expiration date, write the date of purchase on it with a permanent marker. Add spices and seasonings to food to enhance flavor. For example, you can add garlic to mashed potatoes or marinate your favorite meat.

Losing your senses of taste and smell may not be fun, but it does not mean that the good life is over. You can prepare yourself for these changes in advance. Be prepared to accept change, adapt, and be aware of potential hazards. By doing so, you can commit to aging gracefull every step of the way.

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