Effects of aging on smell and taste
Additionally, people who have chronic nasal and sinus problems – including allergies, nasal polyps, or chronic sinus inflammation – may have a more severe and earlier impairment in their sense of smell, Benninger says. And some neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, are associated with a reduced ability to smell, notes Alan Hirsch, MD, neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago.
Taking certain medications, such as certain antidepressants, tranquilizers, antibiotics, antihistamines, antihypertensives, and anticholinergics, can also wreak havoc. And deficiencies in various nutrients, including vitamin B-12 and vitamin D, are associated with odor dysfunction, Turner notes. In fact, a to study published in the 2020 issue of the journal Nutrients found that adults aged 40 and older with vitamin D deficiency were 39% more likely to have odor disturbances.
The potential consequences go beyond the inability to smell the roses. “A major concern with loss of smell is safety,” Benninger says. “We use our noses to detect things like fire before we can see it and rotten food. That’s why it’s essential for people with loss of smell to have fully functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and to check the expiration dates on food labels, says Turner.
How taste fades and how it can affect health
A decrease in your sense of smell is often accompanied by a decrease in the ability to taste. This is because “90 percent of taste is really due to smell,” Hirsch explains. “If you eat chocolate while holding your nose, it tastes like chalk.” Although less common, oral infections (such as gingivitis or periodontal disease), dry mouth, diabetes, or high blood pressure alone can compromise your sense of taste, Hirsch explains. “And a head injury can cause loss of taste without loss of smell or vice versa or both.”
Not only do people with taste or smell dysfunction have less pleasure in eating, but they can also face health issues, Turner explains. “As people get older, a lot of these people can have nutritional deficiencies and lose weight. In fact, a study published in a 2016 issue of European Journal of Nutrition found that older women with moderate to severe olfactory deficiency compared to those without deficiency had significantly poorer food quality. More recently, a to study in a 2021 issue of The Journal of Nutrition found that older people with reduced taste function had poorer diets than those with normal taste function.
Sharpen those senses
To protect your senses of smell and taste from further damage, avoid exposure to cigarette smoke and vaping as well as harsh chemicals and cleaning products. You will also be able to improve the receptor sites in your nose by giving you scent training (aka scent therapy): take a handful of daily life scents or essential oils (like anise, ginger, lavender, lemon , sandalwood and the like) and inhale them deeply for about four minutes twice a day. It can also help your brain associate certain sensations with particular smells, Benninger explains.