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How and Why Aging Affects Seniors’ Palates and Appetites

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Something that everyone can bond over and relate to is a well-prepared meal with friends and family, whether it be an everyday activity, special occasion or a holiday. Meals, cuisines, and treats bring people together; however, an often overlooked aspect of aging is the fact that palates and appetites change as people grow older. To understand this transition is to better help your loved ones experience the joy of food. Read this blog to learn more behind this phenomenon and to help make tasty meals and special occasions with your loved ones even more memorable!

The Decrease of Taste Buds While Aging

Our sense of taste is likely to change or diminish over time, as the thousands of taste buds that live under our tongues decrease as we age. Occurring typically for women in their 40s and men in their 50s, our remaining taste buds begin to shrink or not function as well, resulting in a decreased sensitivity to taste, starting typically with salty or sweet foods and then with bitter/sour foods. This could also lead and contribute to a decreased sense of smell as well. Taste bud changes can occur naturally as we age or may be caused by an underlying medical condition. There could be other factors to consider relating to perceiving taste, including viral or bacterial infections, medical conditions, nutrient deficiencies, nerve damage, medications, and smoking.

How to Boost Seniors’ Appetites

These changes are typical due to aging but can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. Be mindful and observant of a decrease or loss in appetite, as it can lead to a lack of nutrition or even be a sign of depression. Some causes of impaired taste are treatable but contact your healthcare provider to organize a treatment specific to you or your loved one.

With all that taken into consideration, it is important to keep these changes in mind when preparing food for your loved one, especially during the holiday season, birthday celebrations and special occasions. In addition to keeping them satisfied while experiencing these changes with taste, the need to maintain and fulfill their expanded need for nutrients remains crucial. Seniors have a harder time getting (and maintaining) the nutrition they need to stay happy and healthy. It is normal to see a decline in the ability to taste and smell which can make it more difficult to maintain an appetite as you age, especially with contributing factors such as illnesses, medications, or restricted diets. Below we’ve listed some tips to help spice up your senior’s meal while keeping their changes in nutrition and appetite top of mind:

  • Elevate the flavor without the addition of salt. Consider including fresh herbs and spices or cooking with wine and acidic flavors without relying on an excess of salt.
  • Incorporate soft, moist foods to help seniors with difficulty chewing or swallowing from reduced saliva or changes in dental structure, as well as provide additional hydration through foods. (Water-dense fruits and vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes, as well as broths, and soups)
  • Substitute unhealthy fats with good fats by avoiding trans and saturated fats with ones that help raise “good” cholesterol and protect against heart disease. Some sources of these good fats include olive oil, avocados, salmon, or nuts.
  • Supplement standard meals with healthy snacks or smoothies, including extra fruits or vegetables if not meeting the daily recommended intake. Healthy alternatives are sometimes just as tasty and easy to make, as well as providing a great way to increase hydration and protein intake.
  • Include naturally sweet foods replacing artificial sweeteners and sugars. Seniors tend to retain the ability to distinguish sweet tastes the longest, so try incorporating naturally sweet food to maintain this indulgence, like fruit, peppers, or yams.
  • Enroll in a local cooking class (yourself or with your senior loved one!) to help increase cooking skills and bring back enthusiasm to enjoy appetizing meals.
  • Allow the senior to select a favorite recipe (maybe even from a family cookbook!) to better understand and choose what is appealing to them to prepare or eat. Meals can always be adapted to the nutritional needs of your loved one but giving them the chance to weigh in on the meal can bring great joy.
  • Rotate in your senior’s favorite comfort foods every once in a while, and watch it bring back a memory of something they used to love eating.

As eating preferences change or a loss of appetite begins, the nutrition and appetite of seniors is crucial to consider when making meals for everyday dining and special occasions. At Wentworth Senior Living (WSL), we believe that these details in dining matter and are important when selecting a community that fits your personal dietary and nutritional needs and desires.

With great meals comes great company and socialization. Specified dining times at WSL give residents in the dining room a variety of menu options, all while having the opportunity to engage with other residents. WSL purchases fresh produce and seafood from local small businesses in the greater Portsmouth area. Multiple delicious meals are offered daily along with a variety of healthy snacks and yummy treats in the WSL Bistro and during activities. WSL has a passion and pride for what they do by being visible in the dining room to hear resident feedback and creating themed events in rotation to keep residents interested. WSL’s Director of Dining, Frank Agresti says “the instant gratification comes when seeing a smile across a resident’s face when they taste something you took pride in preparing for them. WSL starts with top quality proteins and fresh local produce to create a personalized attention to a resident’s favorite meals and snacks that stay in line with their diets and medications.” Learn more about the dining experience Wentworth Senior Living offers to its residents and more when you call it your home!