Have you ever noticed how an aroma can produce a wonderful memory? Our olfactory senses are very powerful in that way. One whiff of fresh baked bread, cookies, or a holiday meal can immediately take you back to being a child. Our sense of smell is so tied into our sense of taste that most people don’t even realize how efficiently the two work together. When the elderly lose their sense of taste and smell, they often also experience a lack of appetite. Understanding the human sense of smell is an important step in appetite stimulation in the elderly.
Why some people have loss of smell
With food all around us, and most people in this country used to eating three meals a day, it’s hard to fathom the idea of people losing their sense of smell. Yet it does happen frequently. In the elderly, sense of smell can be suppressed by a number of things, including medications (such as those for blood pressure) and antibiotics, Alzheimer’s, illness, nose or sinus problems, infections, inflammation, smoking, or even a lack of certain vitamins and minerals, such as zinc and vitamin B12.
Taste and smell work together
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), over 200,000 people each year see their physician concerning taste and smell disorders, yet the number of people with this problem is believed to be much higher, just not reported. NIH reports that taste, which is part of a chemical sensing system, is mainly recognized through the sense of smell. If you hold your nose while eating, you will have a hard time identifying exactly what you are eating because you lack the odor associated with the food. This is the same reason why food seems tasteless when you have a cold or stuffy nose.
Having a sense of smell is essential for appetite stimulation. The problem, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, is that flavor involves both smell and taste. A research report that ran in the 2000 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that taste and smell loss in the elderly can lead to poor appetite, unhealthy food choices, and a decrease in energy consumption. In turn, these deficiencies can lead to health problems.
What to do
Detecting a loss of smell may not be noticeable right away. It’s a good idea to engage your parent in a conversation about it to see if he or she has noticed any changes in the sense of smell. You can also try being observant to see if you notice any such changes in your parent’s behavior regarding smell or appetite. Recognizing any weight changes can also be helpful in detecting a lack of appetite, which can be associated with sense of smell problems.
If your parent is having difficulties with smell and it is leading to a lack of appetite, there are a few things that can be done. First, your parent should seek the help of his or her physician. For those that smoke, quitting can help improve their sense of smell. And if the loss is being caused by medication, illness or infection, there may be ways to clear the problem up by addressing those issues directly. Plus, some people have had success increasing people’s appetite by using aromatherapy, such as filling the house with the smell of fresh baked cookies or apple pie.