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Smell and Taste in Aging

By: Beverly Cowart, Monell Chemical Senses Center
Posted: December 22, 2010, from the January 2011 issue of P&F magazine.

"But Barzillai answered the king, 'How many more years will I live, that I should go up to Jerusalem with the king? I am now eighty years old. Can I tell the difference between what is godo and what is not? Can your servant taste what he east and drinks?...'"
2 Samuel 19:34–35 (NIV)

Everyone is aware thatthe visual and auditory senses dim with age, and expects the elderly to need reading glasses and hearing aids. What about the chemical senses of smell and taste? The opeining quotation shows that a decline in the ability to appreciate ("taste") food and drink in old age was recognized thousands of years ago. But in what ways od our perceptions of the volatile and water-soluable molecules we smell and taste change? And how early in life does it begin?

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