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Smell and taste: how your senses change as you age and how to adapt

Siski Green / 14 January 2015

Read our guide to how your senses change as you age, and find out how to adapt to changes in your eyesight, hearing, sense of touch, taste and smell.

Herbs and spices
Cooking with herbs and spices is a great way to increase flavour without adding more salt to your food

How your sense of smell and taste change as you get older

If chocolate digestives don’t taste quite as good as they used to, it might be because you now have fewer taste buds to pick up on the salty and sweet flavours in the biscuits. 

What’s more, your nose contains less mucous which is essential for picking up on smells – and smells actually make up a large part of the ‘taste’ of food. It doesn’t just mean things don’t taste as flavoursome anymore, it also makes it more difficult for you to differentiate between flavours. 

What to do: There’s no need to add more salt or sugar, now is the time to experiment with spices and herbs, sprinkle on some potent grated cheese or experiment with textures instead, to add variety to your meals.

Read our guide to boosting flavour with herbs and spices

You should also make sure your smoke and gas detector alarms are working well as a reduced sense of smell can mean you don’t smell a fire, for example. Finally, quit smoking which further reduces your ability to smell and taste. 

What can you do if your sense of smell and taste vanish completely? Read our guide to smell training for anosmia 

How your hearing changes as you get older

Becoming deaf isn’t a natural part of ageing but it is very common to experience a reduction in hearing ability. Most common is that you find high-pitched sounds such as that of a bird singing, for example, difficult to hear. You may also have difficulty differentiating between one sound and another, or picking up on a sound you want to hear when there is a lot of background noise. 

What to do: First, get your ears checked for ear wax build up. It could be that you simply need your ears to be cleaned out properly (do not attempt to do this yourself as you may push wax farther down the ear canal). 

If you do need to use a hearing aid, it takes a bit of getting used to and it is easier if you start to use it before your hearing deteriorates dramatically, so if you find yourself having difficulty understanding people, see your GP to make an appointment for a proper hearing test. 

Is it time for a hearing test? Read our guide to hearing loss 


How your sight changes as you get older

Changes in how well you can focus on something that’s close to you is one aspect that often changes as you age, but it’s not only about becoming long-sighted. 

As the muscles controlling how your pupil dilates become less responsive, you may find that you see less in dark situations now than you used to. 

Your pupil also becomes smaller in general, so doesn’t allow as much light in as it used to. Making your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night can become more difficult. 

As less light enters your eye, you might also find it more difficult to differentiate between certain colours. Blue and green, particularly, become tricky. 

Glare from the sun can also feel more powerful and peripheral vision is also reduced, making driving difficult, for example. Wear light-responsive sunglasses and take regular eye tests to ensure you’re still safe to drive. 

Finally, because your eye is producing less lubrication, you’ll find your eyes get irritated more easily and tend to water in cold weather. 

What to do: See your optician to check your eyesight regularly. That way you’ll be able to catch a sight problem before it leads to an injury. To help with dry eyes, try blinking more often, and ask your optician for eye drops. 

Is it time for an eye test? Read our guide to eye health 


How your sense of touch changes as you get older

Reduced blood flow and less responsive nerve endings can mean that you don’t feel things the same way you used to. It can put you at greater risk of burning yourself as you might not feel the heat until it’s too late, similarly you may not feel a cut and the injury could get infected. 

A reduced sense of touch can also affect your balance – you may not perceive the floor correctly and so fall. Thinner skin, however, can also mean that someone lightly treading on your foot becomes incredibly painful, for example. 

What to do: Make sure you do regular exercise to ensure good circulation as this is key to maintaining a good sense of touch. And make an effort to make note of any injuries. After you’ve been gardening, for example, always check yourself for scratches, cuts and bruises. Wash and dress the wound to prevent infection and to help it heal quickly. 

What's normal and what's not as you get older? Find out what kind of health problems are age-related and which aren't.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.