July 7, 2011

GERMANY: Scientists Say Senior Citizens Should Keep Things Spicy to Maintain Their Appetites

JAKARTA, Indonesia / The Jakarta Globe / Life & Times / July 6, 2011

A juicy steak, a hearty stew or a tempting dessert can still be enjoyed by senior citizens, even if their senses of smell and taste have diminished with age. No one should have to forego good, tasty food, according to doctors and nutritionists.

“But it may be necessary to season dishes more intensively than before, with plenty of herbs and other spices,” said Dorothee Volkert, from the Institute for the Biomedicine of Aging at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.

“Smelling and tasting are just like the other senses,” said the scientist. “Naturally, the extent of the degradation varies with different individuals, but this is an entirely normal symptom of old age.”

The number of taste buds decreases with age. While an adult has, on average between 4,000 and 6,000 taste buds, elderly people have only between 2,000 and 3,000, according to the German Nutrition Society (DGE) in Bonn.

But culinary experts say that is no reason to limit seniors’ menus.

“I am absolutely against special senior citizen meals,” said Sybille Schoenberger, a young German star chef.

“What is important is that the food looks good, smells good and has a good aroma. Salt alone is not enough,” she said.

Schoenberger noticed that elderly people often prefer very strong-smelling cheeses (“the more aromatic it is, the stronger the taste”). And that follows the data collected by scientists.

“To older people, food is often not savory enough. Therefore, it should be accordingly spicy,” Volkert said. “If everything just tastes bland, then you don’t want to eat. The consequences one day could be malnutrition or undernutrition. Loved ones definitely have to watch out for that.”

If in doubt, he recommends consulting a general practitioner.

The other extreme can also occur. “Many senior citizens eat too many sweets because that sense of taste is apparently more distinctive for them. The consequence is a marked and sometimes excessive weight gain,” said Peter Grote, from the Federal Association of Private Providers of Social Services (BPA), which represents about 3,100 out-patient services and more than 3,400 in-patient care institutions with hundreds of thousands of patients.

According to Volkert, the causes for malfunctioning or diminished senses of smell and taste, other than aging, could be an illness — especially dementia — and medicines.

“The more drugs, the higher the risk [of diminished taste],” Volkert said. She noted that, if a heavily medicated elderly person is experiencing degraded taste or smell, the treating doctor should be consulted about the issue and check if some of those medications could be discontinued.

“In the case of a dementia, a decreasing sense of smell often takes place first,” Volkert said.

That makes it all the more important to appeal to their senses with nutrition.

“Good things are those that have an intense smell. That starts already at breakfast, with coffee and toast,” Volkert said.

In general, seniors should maintain a balanced diet with a variety of foods.

“Diversified cooking or preparing new meals could have a positive effect on the sense of taste,” the DGE recommends. 


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