The sense of smell in older adults declines when it comes to meat, but not vanilla

“Our study shows that the declining sense of smell among older adults is more complex than once believed. While their ability to smell fried meat, onions and mushrooms is markedly weaker, they smell orange, raspberry and vanilla just as well as younger adults. Thus, a declining sense of smell in older adults seems rather odor specific. What is really interesting is that how much you like an odor is not necessarily dependent on theintensity perception” says Eva Honnens de Lichtenberg Broge.

For example, liking of seemed to be largely unaffected for fried meat, onions and mushrooms, despite the largest decline in intensity perception was seen for these specific odors. Also the ability to smell coffee declined, among other things, though they didn’t like the aroma of coffee to the same degree as younger adults.

The test subjects included 251 Danes between the ages of 60 and 98 and a control group consisting of 92 people between the ages of 20 and 39.

What’s the story?

The researchers can only speculate as to why the declining sense of smell in older adults seems to be odors specific, and why, in some cases, liking is largely unaffected. However, they can only speculate of why the intensity decline was most pronounced for fried meat, onions and mushrooms – foods that are referred to as ‘savory’ or umami in nature.

“This may be due to the fact that these are common food odours in which saltiness or umami is a dominant taste element. It is widely recognized that salty is the basic taste most affected by aging. Since taste and smell are strongly associated when it comes to food, our perception of aroma may be disturbed if one’s taste perception of saltiness is impaired to begin with,” explains Eva Honnens de Lichtenberg Broge.

Health and quality of life

The researchers hope that their findings can be deployed by those working to improve the meals and dining experiences of older adults. Figures show that half of those over 65 admitted to Danish hospitals are malnourished. The same applies to one in five nursing home residents.

While the sense of smell is important for stimulating appetite and our serotonin levels as well, according to Eva Honnens de Lichtenberg Broge, our study demonstrates that the sensitivity of one’s sense of smell need not be decisive. For several of the food odours, the respondent’s liking of an odour remained unchanged, even while their ability to perceive it had declined.

“Our results show that as long as a food odour is recognizable, its intensity will not determine whether or not you like it. So, if one wants to improve food experiences of older adults, it is more relevant to pay attention to what they enjoy eating than it is to wonder about which aromas seem weaker to them,” concludes Eva Honnens de Lichtenberg Broge.

The study is published in the scientific journal Food Quality and Preference

4 Comments

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4 responses to “The sense of smell in older adults declines when it comes to meat, but not vanilla

  1. I can’t smell very much at all. Not from ageing but from a car accident some 55 years ago. A lady ran out on a dark, wet night from behind a large truck and came through my windscreen!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow. Talk about a freak accident! Actually, because of my post nasal drip, I can’t smell very well either. I am not sure that is so bad as there are so many unpleasant smells.

      Like

      • I hardly give it any thought these days except when Jeannie puts perfume on. I cannot smell that either. But I was very lucky because my mother had said to me when I was 20 that she wouldn’t support me getting an Austin Healey Sprite unless I passed the Advanced Motorists qualification. Well I happened to be working alongside an IAM motorist and he coached me and I passed. Had I been driving a more traditional car I would have killed the woman. But I hit her with my low bumper and she came through the windscreen luckily the broken glass missed my eyes. Hardly dare say it but that was my one and only accident!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow! A car crash with a happy ending.

        Like

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