Preventing malnutrition in later life

How to revive your taste buds in later life

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Taste perception can often decline in later life, but this doesn’t always have to be the case. In this blog from Amano Tongue Cleansers, they look at why taste can lessen in later life and what can be done to try and reverse this decline. 

William Shakespeare observed in ‘The Seven Ages of Man’ that we spend our later years “sans taste” (or ‘without taste’).

Today this medical condition is well recognised and we know that the decline in our ability to taste food can have a number of health consequences, such as becoming undernourished.

Why does this happen?

Our ability to eat and enjoy food and drink is inextricably linked to its taste. If food appears to be tasteless and flavorless, we won’t want to eat it and, over time, there will be a natural reduction in our appetite.

Our taste buds are made up of complex epithelial structures which, when stimulated, transmit taste sensations to our brain. But for this to happen, first the chemical substances in the food must be dissolved in our saliva, so that they can enter the taste pore and stimulate the nerve endings in our tongue.

Up to our middle years our taste buds are renewed every 10 days or so. However after middle-age renewal rates slow down dramatically – so this means there is a rapid decline in the number of taste buds we have and their efficiency.

What’s more, as we age our saliva production reduces. When we combine both lower saliva levels (needed to dissolve the food and drink) and fewer taste buds, we can see why ‘sans taste’ can become a reality for so many in later life.

What can be done to reverse this process?

Don’t think that fading taste is a given – there are steps that can be taken to tackle this.

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that smoking, post menopause (because of a fall in estrogen, which is essential to taste bud renewal), antidepressants, mouthwashes (containing chlorohexdine) and radiotherapy/chemotherapy will further exacerbate the decline in our taste perception.

 That said, here is a simple routine to boost taste perception:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Try and avoid using mouthwashes which contain chlorohexdine
  • Chew your food more Chewing increases salivation, which in turn will increase the amount of chemicals released from the food, so taste sensation will improve. So very simply – chew more!
  • Swish your drink (and wine) more – Leaving your soft drink or wine in your mouth slightly longer, before swallowing, will enable the chemicals greater time to stimulate the receptors in your tongue.
  • (If applicable) Give up smoking
  • Cleanse your palate – unclog your taste buds and give them a fighting chance – Using a tongue scraper to remove the residual food and bacterial debris still trapped on your tongue and clogging your taste buds will improve your taste perception.

Taken together, these are simple and doable steps that will help you roll back taste decline and prove Shakespeare wrong.

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To read more Malnutrition Task Force blogs, covering how undernutrition can be avoided and other topics, click here

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