By Dr. Anthony Policastro

This didn’t begin as a series but we have covered vision hearing and sensation in the last three week’s. It seems that adding taste and smell will round things out.

Taste is governed by sensory cells in the mouth. They line the tongue, the roof of the mouth and the throat. We start out with several thousand taste buds at birth. Over time some lose their ability to function. We often replace them but that replacement declines as we get older. These things make taste less sensitive in older individuals.

There are five kinds of taste buds. Those are, sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and glutamate (the taste associated with MSG). Glutamate is called the umami taste (there is your new word for the week).

Those tastes combine with other things to enhance taste. Other things include texture. They include spiciness and temperature.

They also include aroma. We usually associate aroma with the sense of smell. We have all experienced decreased sense of taste when we have a cold and our nasal passages are blocked. 

It should not be a surprise that the nerve endings that affect smell decline with age. The result is that all five of our senses diminish with age.

The problem with diminished taste and smell is that when that occurs, individuals try to make up for it by adding seasoning to their food.

That may not always be a good thing. People may add salt. Unfortunately many individuals in this age group have hypertension. Salt is bad for them.

Some people may add sugar. Diabetes is also common in this age group. Sugar is bad for them. Some people tend to change their eating habits. They may eat more and gain weight. They may eat less and lose weight. Both of these can be bad for their general health.

Some people develop a metallic taste in their mouth. This is known as dysgeusia (another new vocabulary word). It often is a side effect from medications. I had this from Paxlovid when I was treated for my COVID-19 infection.

There are many medical disorders that can change the sense of taste and smell. This can happen in the early stages of diabetes and also with neurological disorders like dementia.

Cigarette smokers often to do not notice a problem with impaired taste. However, when they stop smoking, they often report an improved ability to taste foods.

Our senses affect our interaction with both the environment and the people in that environment. We should learn to not take them for granted.