Caregivers’ Corner: Nutrition, Hygiene, and Safety

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson September 15, 2010 11:50

Joan Jackson

Does your aging mom complain that her raspberries don’t taste right anymore? Is your husband pouring so much salt in his soup that you’re seriously worried about his hypertension? Do you notice yourself adding extra sugar to your chai latte?

Most of us know that we’ll get a few “laugh lines” as we age, and that vision and hearing may alter. However, age-related changes that affect the sense of taste and the sense of smell can sneak up on us, and have a big impact on nutrition, hygiene and safety.


Taste and smell are deeply intertwined. To experience the full array of flavors in our food we must use both senses. Our taste buds, aided by saliva, allow us to distinguish salt, sweet, bitter, sour and savory. All the rest of the “flavor” we find in our food comes through our sense of smell.

When we hit our fifties, our taste buds gradually begin to decrease in number and become less and less sensitive. Saliva production starts to taper off around that time.  Our ability to smell also begins a slow decline.

The result is that foods taste increasingly bland or bitter. Mom’s raspberries don’t taste right because she’s no longer able to detect their subtle smell. Your husband’s hitting the salt because the soup is flavorless to him. You’re adding sugar because your chai seems bitter rather than sweet.

If you’re caring for an older loved one, you may notice complaints about food not tasting right, or excess use of salt or sugar. Try varying the texture of foods served at a meal, separating foods on the plate, and making food look as appealing as possible. In addition, most health food stores and many grocery stores now have an array of salt and sugar substitutes and spice blends that can be safely used to increase the intensity of food flavors. As always, if you notice major differences in appetite, consult with your doctor.

Hygiene and Safety

Changes in the ability to smell can have other consequences for you or your loved one. You may find that your impeccable dad isn’t taking showers because he’s unaware of his body odor. Mom’s drenching herself in perfume because she can’t smell it any more.

Loss of smell can put seniors in line for serious hazards. When we’re younger, the smell of a pot of scorching potatoes will send us dashing to the stove well before a fire breaks out. Without the ability to smell, mom or dad may not notice burning pots, smoke or a gas leak in the home. They are also at risk of eating spoiled foods.

It’s important to make sure home smoke detectors are in good working order. Have gas heating systems and appliances checked periodically for leaks. All foods should be refrigerated or frozen swiftly, and leftovers should be dated or simply tossed.

Joan Jackson is a partner with Peter Carrillo in Practical Dreamer, providing caregiver and family coaching and other services, including free caregiver support groups sponsored by the Area 12 Agency on Aging. Contact her at (209) 588-1835 if you’d like to join a group.

Copyright © 2010, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson September 15, 2010 11:50
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