Sunday, November 29, 2015

Aging changes in the senses

Table of Contents

You have approximately 9,000 taste buds. Your taste buds are primarily responsible for sensing sweet, salty, sour, and bitter tastes.

Smell (and to a lesser extent, taste) also play a role in both safety and enjoyment. We detect certain dangers, such as spoiled food, noxious gases, and smoke with taste and smell. A delicious meal or pleasant aroma can improve social interaction and enjoyment of life.

The number of taste buds decreases beginning at about age 40 to 50 in women and at 50 to 60 in men. Each remaining taste bud also begins to atrophy (lose mass). The sensitivity to the four taste sensations does not seem to decrease until after age 60, if at all. If taste sensation is lost, usually salty and sweet tastes are lost first, with bitter and sour tastes lasting slightly longer.

Additionally, your mouth produces less saliva as you age. This causes dry mouth, which can make swallowing more difficult. It also makes digestion slightly less efficient and can increase dental problems.

The sense of smell may diminish, especially after age 70. This may be related to loss of nerve endings in the nose.

Studies about the cause of decreased sense of taste and smell with aging have conflicting results. Some studies have indicated that normal aging by itself produces very little change in taste and smell. Rather, changes may be related to diseases, smoking, and environmental exposures over a lifetime.

Regardless of the cause, decreased taste and smell can lessen your interest and enjoyment in eating. Some people become less aware of personal hygiene when the sense of smell is decreased. Enjoyment of your environment may be diminished.

Sometimes changes in the way food is prepared, such as a change in the spices used, may help.

For some people, there is an increased risk of asphyxia because they cannot detect the odor of natural gas from the stove, furnace or other appliance. A visual gas detector that changes appearance when natural gas is present may be helpful.


The sense of touch also includes awareness of vibrations, pain, and your body position. The skin, muscles, tendons, joints, and internal organs have receptors that detect touch, temperature, or pain.

Your brain interprets the type and amount of touch sensation. It also interprets the sensation as pleasant (such as being comfortably warm), unpleasant (such as being very hot) or neutral (such as being aware that you are touching something).

Review Date: 11/17/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (