Sally looked forward to Thanksgiving dinner at her daughter’s house every year. She loved the smell of the turkey and all the fixings. She couldn’t wait to dig in. But, this year it didn’t smell like Thanksgiving and, when Sally ate the holiday food, she felt let down. It wasn’t as tasty as she remembered. No one else seemed to notice. Sally wondered what might be wrong—could her senses be the problem?
Did you know that your sense of smell and taste are connected? As you get older, these senses can change, and, like Sally, you may find that certain foods aren’t as flavorful as they used to be. Changes in smell or taste can also be a sign of a larger problem.
Smell is an important sense. Certain smells, like your dad’s cologne, can help you recall a memory. Other smells, like smoke from a fire, can alert you to danger. When you can’t smell things you enjoy, like your morning coffee or spring flowers, life may seem dull.
As you get older, your sense of smell may fade. Your sense of smell is closely related to your sense of taste. When you can’t smell, food may taste bland. You may even lose interest in eating.
Many problems cause a loss of smell that lasts for a short time. This temporary loss of smell may be due to:
Some things can cause a long-lasting loss of smell. A head injury, for example, can damage the nerves related to smell.
Sometimes, losing your sense of smell may be a sign of a more serious disorder, such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease . Be sure to tell your doctor  about any change in your sense of smell.
It’s important to be aware of odors around you. You need to be able to smell:
There are tiny taste buds inside your mouth—on your tongue, in your throat, even on the roof of your mouth. What we call “flavor” is based on five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savory. Along with how it tastes, how food smells is also part of what makes up its flavor.
When food tastes bland, many people try to improve the flavor by adding more salt or sugar. This may not be healthy for older people, especially if you have medical problems like high blood pressure  or diabetes  (high blood sugar).
People who have lost some of their sense of taste may not eat the foods they need to stay healthy. This can lead to other issues such as:
Eating food that is good for you  is important to your health. If you have a problem with how food tastes, be sure to talk with your doctor.
Many things can cause you to lose your sense of taste. Most of the time there are ways to help with the problem.
Medications, like antibiotics and pills to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, can sometimes change how food tastes. Some medicines can make your mouth dry. Having a dry mouth  can cause food to taste funny and also make it hard to swallow. Talk to your doctor if you think a medicine is affecting your sense of taste. There may be different medicines that you can try. Do not stop taking your medicine.
Gum disease, an infection in your mouth, or issues with your dentures can leave a bad taste in your mouth that changes the way food tastes. Brushing your teeth, flossing, and using mouthwash can help prevent these problems. Talk to your dentist if you have a bad taste in your mouth that won’t go away.
People who are having cancer treatments might have a problem with taste. Your sense of taste will often return once treatments stop.
Cancer treatments can make food taste bad or “off.” Some say that food tastes metallic. This funny taste may keep some people from eating healthy food. If this happens to you, try to:
If you’re having trouble smelling and tasting your food, try adding color and texture to make your food more interesting. For example, try eating brightly colored vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and tomatoes. Also, if your diet allows, flavor your food with a little butter, olive oil, cheese, nuts, or fresh herbs like sage, thyme, or rosemary. To put some zing in your food, add mustard, hot pepper, onions, garlic, ginger, different spices, or lemon or lime juice. Choose foods  that look good to you.
If the foods you enjoy don’t smell or taste the way you think they should, talk to your doctor. He or she might suggest you see a specialist who treats people with smell and taste problems. This kind of doctor is called an otolaryngologist (oh-toh-lar-ing-gol-uh-jist), also known as an ENT (which stands for ear, nose, and throat). An otolaryngologist works on problems related to the ear, nose, and throat, as well as the larynx (voice box), mouth, and parts of the neck and face. The doctor may ask:
There are likely ways to help fix the problem. If not, the doctor can help you cope with the changes in smell and taste.
National Library of Medicine
MedlinePlus: Taste and Smell Disorders
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