Dec 12, 2017
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Nutrition and Aging-The decline in the senses of taste and smell

Nutrition is vitally important for all age groups but is especially a concern for the elderly population. Proper menu planning is critical for providing the essential nutrients that a resident so desperately needs. Older adults are more likely than younger adults to suffer from, and be concerned about, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis. In July 2003, there were 35.9 million people over the age of 65 in the United States. This accounted for 12 percent of the total population. In 2030, the US Census Bureau projects the older population to be twice as large as in 2000, growing from 35 million to 72 million and representing nearly 20 percent of the total US population.

Mature adults have unique nutritional needs but one of the key changes experienced by many residents is a decline in the senses of taste and smell. How many times have we heard the comment from a resident that the food just doesn’t taste good or smell appetizing? The truth is that the senses of smell, taste, and touch may decline gradually with age. Sometimes we fail to realize how some residents may have lost their sense of smell and taste and therefore their appetite.

As senses of taste and smell get duller, food may lose some of its flavor, appeal, and pleasure. Some residents may just lose interest in eating. Poor nutrition can then result because the resident says; “the food just doesn’t taste as good as it used to.” It has been shown that the ability to sense sweet and salty tastes may decrease sooner than bitter or sour tastes. The anterior taste buds, which are for sweet and salt are affected first. Posterior taste buds for bitter and sour are affected later. This may be why some residents may reach for the salt shaker or sugar bowl to make the food taste better. Medications or health problems may also affect taste and smell. Some medications leave a bitter flavor, which will affect the taste of the food. Some may cause nausea, resulting in a loss of appetite. Health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and liver disease may alter taste and smell.
To help improve the resident’s appetite, think about “spicing” up certain food items with herbs, spices or lemon juice. Carrots or acorn squash may be more appealing with a dash of nutmeg, or simmer your soups or stews with a bay leaf. Of course you will want to watch out if your residents may not tolerate certain spices. Texture also adds variety and can help when there is a loss of taste and smell. Crushed crackers on soups or crushed cornflakes on ice cream or pudding may aid in improving appetite. Ground nuts, bread or cereal crumbs or cocoa in food can increase appeal. Marinate meats in fruit juices, Italian dressing and sweet and sour sauce for extra zest. A simple plate garnish can also add appeal and interest in the food. A staff member from dietary or activities can bake some fresh cookies or bread in the kitchen or dining room, which can also help stimulate the resident’s appetite. As you can see there are many ways we can help to improve the taste and appeal of meal service to the residents. Always keep in mind to try various ways to help improve the resident’s appetite. In the long run this will help their overall nutritional health and make meal time a more pleasant experience.

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