Loss of Taste in Elderly Adults: Learn How To Resolve

As we grow older, our taste buds change so that we may not enjoy the same foods as we did when we were younger. Learn about potential risk factors and what you can do to resolve this issue.

Do Taste Buds Change with Age?

As people age, they may no longer taste the sweetness or an apple or the tartness of lemon as they did when they were younger. This can cause a lack of appetite, as they are looking at it from a viewpoint that the foods they once loved, no longer are as good as they used to be.

How Do Humans Perceive Taste?

Taste occurs when you release molecules by chewing and they stimulate special sensory cells in the mouth and throat. These taste cells send messages to the brain where specific tastes are defined. Humans can have five basic taste sensations of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. Umami is the taste of glutamate, which is a protein that is found in chicken broth, cooked meats, and some cheese. It is also the taste associated with MSG, which is often put in foods as a flavor enhancer. These taste qualities combine with other sensations such as texture, temperature, spiciness, and aroma to have flavor.

Our Sense of Smell Influences Taste

Many people are surprised that your sense of smell greatly influences your taste. The sense of smell factors largely into the taste as aromas are released during chewing. This explains why food flavors are diminished when we have a head cold or nasal congestion. When you have a stuffy nose, the aromas of foods can’t reach the sensory cells to detect odors and aid in taste sensations. In many cases, a loss of or change in taste is due to changes in a person’s sense of smell.

When do Taste Buds Change?

The average person is born with approximately 9,000 taste buds, which cover the tongue and have different degrees of sensitivity to different kinds of flavors. The cells on the taste buds replace themselves every 1 to 2 weeks. As we age, there is an increased risk of loss of taste buds with age. Younger taste buds can easily heal a few days after burning your tongue; however, older taste buds can’t recover as well from injuries of being burnt on hot beverages or food. Men typically lose their taste in their 60’s and women lose theirs in their 50’s.

What Causes Loss of Taste Buds in the Elderly?

Many items can cause a loss of taste in older people. Poor dental health or simply genetics can result in a need for dentures, which affects the quality of chewing, especially if they do not fit properly. This can reduce foods from breaking down in saliva and prevent contact with the taste buds’ sensory receptors. Aging also means that you produce less saliva as a whole, which results in making it hard to dissolve food and carry the taste to your taste receptors.

Some medications can also cause a loss of taste in older adults. Antibiotics, blood pressure medications cholesterol medications, beta-blockers, and ACE inhibitors can all result in odd tastes.

The overall health of an older individual can play roles in the sense of taste. Head injuries, allergies, cancer, respiratory infections, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease can all impair your sense of taste. Using tobacco or alcohol can impair your taste buds and affect them even more with age.

Types of Taste Loss and Their Symptoms

There are two distinct types of taste loss: phantom taste perception and afeusia. Phantom taste perception is when a person is experiencing a taste in their mouth and there is nothing in their mouth. Some may have a reduced ability to taste due to the loss of taste buds. Ageusia is a disorder that can be caused by head trauma, surgical procedures such as middle ear surgery or the extraction of the third molar as well as radiation therapy and viral infections. This disorder is when a person can no longer detect one of the individual taste categories of sweet, sour, bitter, salty or umami rather than an inability to still perceive all five tastes.

Are There Risks Associated with Loss of Taste?

The loss of taste can have some dangerous side effects in your health. The first taste sensations you lose are sweet and salty. This can cause an individual to add too much sugar or salt to their food and can result in high blood pressure and poor heart health. Some adults lose interest in eating certain foods when they lose the ability to taste them. This can cause unhealthy weight loss and malnutrition. An older person may experience social isolation and depression because they do not go out to eat with family and friends as they once did.

Can You Fight Aging Taste Buds?

There are a few steps that can help you when you notice your taste buds are diminishing. You should brush, floss and use mouthwash to prevent gum disease, which can impact your taste. You should check the expiration dates on all foods before eating them to prevent you from eating spoiled or stale products. This is a great time in your life to add spices and herbs to food to enhance the flavor without the addition of salt, which will increase your blood pressure. Food always tastes it best when it is at its proper temperature. Decreasing the temperature on cold food or increasing the temperature on hot foods can greatly improve the taste. Making meals on social occasions with family and friends can prevent social isolation and ensure that you get a filling meal at the same time.

As the best private senior elderly home care in St. Louis, we strongly advised that if you or a loved one is losing the sense of taste due to aging, you can try spicing it up by experimenting with several types of seasonings without the addition of salt or sugar in their meals. If you are experiencing a gradual loss of taste and smell as you age, you may no longer be eating healthy and nutritious meals. You can work with a doctor to experiment with different flavors and foods to take farther steps toward safeguarding your health.