|NIH SeniorHealth Adds Information on Smell and Taste
Thirty percent of older Americans between the ages of 70 and 80
and two out of three older Americans over age 80 experience problems
with their sense of smell.
Problems with taste, although less common, also frequently occur
in older adults. Now accurate, up-to-date information about the
important senses of smell and taste
is available in a senior-friendly format at http://www.nihseniorhealth.gov.
Visitors to the site can learn about how these senses work, how
smell and taste decline with age or
illness, and what older adults can do to cope with the loss of
“Although the senses of smell and taste do decline with age, anyone who experiences significant
loss of smell or taste or a sudden change in one of their senses should seek medical attention,”
says James F. Battey Jr., M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other
Communication Disorders (NIDCD), which developed the content for the taste and smell topics on
the NIHSeniorHealth Web site. “Loss of smell or taste can be indicative of an underlying medical
condition and should not be ignored. NIHSeniorHealth provides a valuable resource of information
on these important issues.”
Because smell and taste are closely linked in the brain, many people mistakenly believe
they have a problem with taste, when they are really experiencing a problem with their sense
of smell. Problems with smell or taste may cause certain foods to lose their appeal, causing
a person to eat too much of the fattier foods and gain weight or too little of the more healthful
foods and lose too much weight. Because people frequently try to compensate for diminished smell
or taste by adding too much sugar or salt to make food taste better, loss of these senses can
cause problems for people with heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other illnesses that require
sticking to a specific diet. In addition, the sense of smell often serves as a warning system,
as in the case of a fire or gas leak, so people with total or partial loss of smell are almost
twice as likely to have certain types of accidents as people who have normal smell.
One of the fastest growing age groups using the Internet, older Americans increasingly turn to
the World Wide Web for health information. In fact, 66 percent of “wired” seniors surf for
health and medical information when they go online. NIHSeniorHealth, a joint effort of the
National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM), was designed
especially with seniors in mind. The site is based on the latest research on cognition and aging.
It features short, easy-to-read segments of information that can be accessed in a variety of formats,
including various large-print type sizes, open-captioned videos, and an audio version. Additional
topics coming to the site include stroke, osteoporosis, and heart disease. The site links to
MedlinePlus, NLM’s premier, more detailed site for consumer health information.
The NIA leads the federal effort supporting and conducting research on
aging and the health and well-being of older people. The NLM, the world’s
largest library of the health sciences, creates and sponsors Web-based health
information resources for the public and professionals.
The NIDCD supports and conducts biomedical and behavioral research in the normal
and disordered processes of hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech,
and language, seeking to help those
who suffer from communication disorders. All three are components of the
National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, part of the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — is comprised of 27 Institutes
and Centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health
and Human Services. It is the primary Federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research,
and investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common
and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs,