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Suffering From Poor Taste?

Age Can Take Its Toll On The Ability To Enjoy A Delicious Meal

Just reading a good menu can make your mouth water. Once we place our order, often the food cannot be served fast enough. We anticipate the taste and the experience.

For some seniors, even if the meal is prepared perfectly, the food may still be seen as bland, lacking something, or having an unusual taste. That's because their ability to taste may not be up to par.

Many things can affect the sense of taste of seniors. (See below, left.) When this ability is diminished, it can take the joy out of eating and lead to a lack of appetite, poor nutrition and weight issues. It can also hinder a person's warning system that enables the detection of spoiled food or ingredients that create allergic reactions. On the bright side, the sense of taste can often be repaired, and meals enjoyed once again, if the root causes of the poor taste are uncovered and dealt with.

When food looks better than it tastes, it may not always be the chef's fault. A decrease in one's sense of taste can actually be the problem.


Taste vs. Flavor

The number of taste buds decrease with age. In addition, the remaining buds begin to atrophy and lose some mass. After the age of 60, this typically leads to a decrease in the sensitivity of basic taste sensations. (Sweet and salty decline first.) Some studies show this effect can be regional with some areas of the tongue worse than others.

There are other factors that may interfere with the taste process of seniors. These include:

  • Dry mouth, due to less saliva production.
  • Medications/treatments - These include chemotherapy, antibiotics, blood pressure meds, antihistamines and antidepressants.
  • Mouth sores, tooth decay & gum disease.
  • Diseases - These include diabetes, the flu, Alzheimer's disease, head trauma, cancer, acid reflux, multiple sclerosis and sinusitis.
  • Smoking, and second hand smoke.

At birth, we have about 10,000 taste buds. They are found on the tongue, in the roof of the mouth, and along the lining of the throat.

Taste is the process by which specialized receptor cells in the taste buds chemically sense molecules they come in contact with, then report their presence to the brain. Each receptor responds to one of the five basic taste sensations:

  1. Sweet
  2. Sour
  3. Bitters
  4. Salty
  5. Umami (savory)

Taste is often confused with flavor, but they are different. Flavor results from combining taste with smell, feel and temperature. In some cases, as with spicy foods, the brain also factors in pain when determining flavor.

(Sources: NIH.gov, science.howstuffworks.com)