Taste is one of five senses known to humans and is vital to our need to nourish our bodies. There are certain receptors on the tongue that help perceive the different kinds of tastes – sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.
It may seem a bit surprising that when we say that a food “tastes” good or bad, it is not just what the tongue perceives but an interplay of many sensations including smell, texture as well as temperature of the food . Taste and smell together help determine flavour of food. Instances where the smell sensation is lost/blocked due to some reason naturally, results in dulled outlook towards food.
The taste sensations are conveyed to the brain via the taste buds. It seems that adults have around 9000 taste buds and their sensory cells are renewed every week. But like everything else, ageing results in loss of these cells. The number of taste buds decreased and the existing ones also shrink in size Secretion of saliva also decreases and a dry mouth further affects taste perception.
Smelling ability also declines due to ageing leading to loss of interest in food, These together contribute to poor appetite for elderly group.
There are various degrees of loss of taste perceptions.
Ageusia -it is the complete loss of taste perception often resulting from head trauma; some surgical procedures, such as middle ear surgery or extraction of the third molar; radiation therapy; and viral infections.
Hypogeusia- Hypo is reduced perception of taste usually being temporary.
Dysgeusia – Dys refers to bad/ abnormal so dysgeusia is a bad or off-taste in the mouth present persistently leading to extreme discomfort and loss of appetite. Some reasons for dysgeusia can lead to infection in the tooth or gums, infection resulting from erupting wisdom tooth or even lung infections that block the nasal passages.
Phantogeusia – it is defined differently by various groups. Some say it is a taste perception present even in the absence of food while some day that it is a spontaneous, abnormal metallic taste in the mouth and seems to be due to certain drug/ medication.
Timely detection of the problem and diagnosis of the cause is very important among elderly since they are more prone to undernutrition. Reduced appetite or loss of interest in food due to poor taste and smell perceptions can be detrimental to their already compromised nutritional status.
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