If you begin to get a stuffy nose and clogged head when venturing down the detergent aisle at the grocery store, you may wish your sense of smell was not so acute.
Well, not so fast. Embrace your olfactory capabilities and avoid the soap aisle whenever possible because as we age, our sense of smell naturally declines, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The good news for women is that we continue to detect odors better than our masculine counterparts, which may explain why elderly women repeatedly and frustratingly ask their husbands, “Can’t you smell that?”
The loss of smell should not be ignored as it can signal something more serious, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, chronic renal failure, liver disease, niacin or vitamin B12 deficiency, among other conditions.
It is important that any changes in the ability to smell be reported to your health care provider, who may refer you to a specialist. As with most things, early detection can make a difference in managing whatever is causing the loss.
According to NIH, research reveals that people experiencing loss of smell are at double the risk for particular 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.
My best advice, if people around you are commenting, “Boy, that smells good,” and you don’t smell anything: see your doctor.
Another problem with declining sensitivity to aromas is the effect it has on eating habits. Think about it — when food doesn’t smell good to us, we typically have less interest in eating it, which can lead to weight loss, a problem for some seniors, as well as malnutrition.
On the other hand, because smell can have a direct effect on taste, its loss can cause us to eat excessive sugar or make us heavy handed with the salt shaker, all in an attempt to make our meals taste better. This can spell trouble for people with diabetes or high blood pressure.
While having a weakened sniffer maybe a blessing in the detergent aisle, life’s too short not to smell a grilling steak or bouquet of flowers.
Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.