SENIOR BEAT

Losing sense of smell can signal disease and put seniors at risk

Posted April 05, 2012, at 4:47 p.m.

We are nearing the season when a whiff of freshly cut grass can make us dizzy with delight. Or how about the aroma of freshly baked bread, a baby’s hair or a new car?

Our sense of smell triggers memories, makes us hungry and keeps us safe.

The National Institutes of Health reports that our sense of smell declines after age 60. But good news, ladies — women detect odors better than their masculine counterparts.

More than an annoyance, losing the sense of smell can signal something more serious, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s. In certain instances, the ability to smell can be credited with saving lives because it helps us to detect excessive smoke or a natural gas leak.

According to NIH, research reveals that people experiencing a loss of smell are at double the risk for some accidents, including cooking mishaps, eating or drinking spoiled foods or toxic substances and failing to detect gas leaks or fires. Because the loss of smell is so gradual, it often goes unnoticed until an accident has occurred.

Another problem with declining sensitivity to aromas is the effect it has on eating habits. When food doesn’t smell good, we typically have less interest in eating it. That can lead to weight loss, a problem for some seniors.

On the other hand, losing our sense of smell may cause us to use too much sugar or get heavy-handed with the salt shaker in an attempt to make our meals taste better. This can spell trouble for people with diabetes or high blood pressure.

Any changes in your ability to smell should be reported to your health care provider, who may refer you to a specialist. As with most health issues, early detection can make a difference in managing the source of the loss.

So if you can’t stop and smell the roses, give your doctor a call.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging.

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