FOOD & DRINK The missing senses

Loss of interest in food is an important marker of overall wellbeing, says Chrissi Kelly, Founder of AbScent.

With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, awareness of smell loss in the general population has taken centre stage. We have witnessed a resurgence of interest in how sensory disorders affect eating habits, general wellbeing, and smell loss as part of Long Covid.

We know that in the elderly population smell loss is accepted as part of the ageing process. Gradual changes in the sharpness and perceptiveness of the

senses are what we consider to be a natural part of getting older.

Think about the way we expect to need

reading glasses or start wearing a hearing aid. It is common to need help with your senses as we age.

However, the reliance and need for these devices is extremely important. A 2018 study described how the use of hearing aids improves “brain function and working memory”. In that same way having a keen and healthy sense of smell can also be linked with good neurological health.

There are other reasons to take note of loss of smell. Loss of smell is a general biomarker for neurodegenerative disease. Loss of smell and taste massively impacts enjoyment of, and in the case of parosmia, the ability to eat food. A loss of interest in food may be the first indication of an olfactory deficit, which is linked to loss of appetite, depression, and feelings of isolation. I oſten ask myself if it would be possible to improve these quality-of-life changes through the rehabilitation of smell. This is important for everyone but really an acute need in older people.

“A 2018 study described how the use of hearing aids

improves ‘brain function and working memory’”

Before the pandemic, in 2017, a research paper was published evidencing the effects of ‘smell training’. This is a simple technique that demonstrated a positive outcome with cognitive function. The study followed a simple approach with one group of people undertaking daily smell training twice per day, while the other group did Sudoku for the same time

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periods. They used a smell test known as the Sniffin’ Sticks test which done before and aſter the trial period.

The results were important and threefold. The smell training group improved their sense of smell; improved their verbal function; and improved in their general sense of wellbeing.

Smell tests are not freely available. Sniffin Sticks and one other university approved test exist but are rarely used, especially in care settings. Being aware of the signs of smell loss is important when dealing with and caring for people. This is important in a care setting because simple interventions may mitigate the effects of smell loss, and especially when it comes to food and appetite.


The area that is the introduction into the most acute effects of smell loss is in food and it is through food that the care sector can begin to mitigate the risks of smell loss. For older people we need to consider that:

● Meals should be aromatic and well-seasoned.

● Experience of food is not just based on smell, we appreciate ‘flavour’ which is made up of: ● olfaction (smell),

● gustation, or ‘true taste’ (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami, or savoury taste),

● chemesthesis (tingling, cooling, hot sensations such as mint, ginger, and chilli).

● Our appreciation of food is also enhanced by mouthfeel, texture and temperature. As texture requirements change in care settings, for instance food is needed that can be easily chewed, important sensory input involving mouth feel is lost.

● It essential to add fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon to enhance gustation, Worcestershire sauce for umami, and other flavourings that might add depth of flavour to enhance food appreciation.

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