Taste and smell the effects of ageing

By Jacinta Sheedy, 4:14 pm on

Effects of ageing on taste and smell

The most important thing to remember about the sense of taste is that it highly dependent upon the sense of smell. The brain is only capable of distinguishing five specific flavours;

  • Sour
  • Sweet
  • Salty
  • Bitter
  • Savoury

We experience taste when saliva combines with good to break it down chemically. Our mouths contain over 10,000 taste buds. Our taste buds must physically meet the chemicals in food to triggers a message to the brain. This coincides with the other senses – vision, that allows us to become aware of an object without physically touching it.

The sense of taste is very much uncomplicated, but with all our other senses, ageing and lifestyle, can take their toll.

Taste loss

Taste loss can be caused by physiological changes, ageing, polypharmacy and chronic disease. The most noticeable change in taste as we age has been sour and bitter tastes, but their perception of salty, sweet also seems to decline with age. Often, we do find that suggested that elderly people who lose their sense of taste may eat less food or choose stronger flavours.

If the person that you are caring for complains about changes in their sense of taste, your first point of call should be your regular GP. A GP will be able to help determine of the real issues is smell, taste or a combination of both. A GP can also see if the medications that they are on might be causing the problem and examine them for allergies or chronic upper respiratory infections that can play a role in these changes.

After seeing the GP your next point of call should be to see a dentist and have a check-up. Since rotting teeth, gum disease, and poor oral hygiene can all play a part in making food undesirable.

If your loved one’s sense of taste does not improve, here are a few ways that you can help:

  • Encourage to try new foods – new foods maybe more appealing
  • Hire a caregiver to help with food preparation. If food, no longer tastes good your loved one may stop wanting to cook for themselves. A caregiver can work with your loved one and help find new ways to enhance flavours and enjoy food again.
  • Enhance the flavour and scent of food by adding rich sauces and heart-healthy seasonings
  • Add Variety to their diet by offering foods with different textures and temperatures
  • Encourage healthy snacking instead of three main meals a day
  • Talk to the GP about supplement to help provide extra nutrition

How can home care help?


  • Encourage healthy eating and socialisation. Eating is a social ritual in Australia. We all get together to not only have a good meal but to maintain connection with the people that we care about. Even if your loved one is no longer interested in food, they may take a few bites here and there out of the habit of socialising
  • Preparation of meals. When we no longer have the desire to want to eat food due to the changes of our sense of taste, we tend to not want to cook for ourselves anymore. Therefore, having a care giver come and work with your loved one can ensure adequate nutrition is being given. The care giver can also experiment with new food and encourage your loved one to want to try new foods and flavours.
  • Maintaining good oral hygiene. A home care work can help your loved one clean their teeth or dentures. This can help remove unpleasant aftertastes some foods leave behind and maintain good oral hygiene practices.
  • Keeping track of dentures. If your loved one has troubles with their vision or cognitive deficiencies, dentures might tend to go for a wander and go missing. Sometimes your loved one may take them out and forget where they placed them. Other times, the dentures may become uncomfortable, your loved one might throw them away. A care giver can help keep an eye on dentures and make sure they end up in the correct place.
  • Weight monitoring. A caregiver can help weigh your loved one at least once a month to keep track of weight loss or gain and refer to the GP if necessary.

Medical conditions that affect the senses of taste or smell


  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Bell’s palsy
  • Damage to the chorda tympani
  • Epilepsy
  • Head trauma
  • Korsakoff’s syndrome
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Tumours and lesions


  • Cancer
  • Chronic renal failure
  • Liver disease
  • Niacin deficiency
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency


  • Adrenal cortical insufficiency
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
  • Panhypopituitarism
  • Cushing’s syndrome
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Kallman’s syndrome
  • Turner’s syndrome


  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Atopy
  • Asthma
  • Sinusitis and polyposis
  • Xerostomic conditions

Viral infections

  • Acute viral hepatitis
  • Influenza
  • Upper respiratory viral infections


To find out more on how we can help enrich your loved ones life, please call 07 3314 2575 or send an online request for more information.  For more information on what happens when we loose our senses have a read on our blog.


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