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Coping with a Decreasing Sense of Smell

Sense of smellOne of the many changes we see in senior health is a decreasing sense of smell. In fact, over 15 million Americans age 55 and older, suffer from it.

What can cause Loss of Smell

Over time, illnesses such as viral infections, colds, gum disease, sinuses, and allergies can change your sense of smell and taste. Other causes may be nasal polyps, injury to the nose and exposure to toxic chemicals such as chemical solvents or pesticides. Additionally, some medications such as antidepressants and antibiotics, or certain medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease can affect your sense of smell.

In many of these cases, sense of smell returns when the illness ends, but for seniors, the recovery may be slower.

What to do about it

A humidifier will help you feel better and relieve congestion if you have a stuffy nose.

Medical intervention. If the nasal congestion is caused by a cold or allergy, no additional medical treatment is needed, or you may take an over-the-counter decongestant to open up the nasal passages. Seek medical attention if the condition does not improve within two weeks.  Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or check for polyps or any kind of growth impairing your ability to smell. In the case of a polyp, surgery may be necessary.

Make good hygiene a habit. You want to be well groomed – a daily shower, dental hygiene, and clean clothes are important to ensure that you feel good and smell good (at least to others). Also wash your hands often, especially after touching public areas or when around people who have a cold or the flu.

Get a smoke alarm. You might not be able to smell gas leaks or burnt food. Independent living communities need to alert their residents to install fire alarms and check them regularly.

When the elderly lose their sense of smell and taste, they may eat too much or too little food. It may be a good idea to keep a food journal in order to monitor food take, at least until you get used to your new eating habits.

Another danger is that our decreasing sense of smell and taste may not be able to warn us when food is no longer fresh, especially dairy and meats. It’s important to pay attention to expiration dates and examine the food carefully for color and texture, to get a sense of the food’s freshness. When in doubt, throw it out.

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