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Taste loss in hospitalized multimorbid elderly subjects

Authors Toffanello ED, Inelmen EM, Imoscopi A, Perissinotto E, Coin A, Miotto F, Donini LM, Cucinotta D, Barbagallo M, Manzato E, Sergi G

Published Date February 2013 Volume 2013:8 Pages 167—174


Received 29 August 2012, Accepted 26 October 2012, Published 13 February 2013

ED Toffanello,1 EM Inelmen,1 A Imoscopi,1 E Perissinotto,2 A Coin,1 F Miotto,1 LM Donini,3 D Cucinotta,4 M Barbagallo,5 E Manzato,1 G Sergi1

1Department of Medical and Surgical Sciences, Geriatrics Division and University of Padova, Padova, 2Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, University of Padua, Padua, Italy; 3Department of Medical Physiopathology (Food Science Section), University of Roma, La Sapienza, Roma, 4S Orsola Malpighi Hospital, Bologna, 5Geriatric Unit, Department of Internal Medicine and Emerging Diseases, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy

Background: Loss of the sense of taste is common among older people. Morbidities and polypharmacy may contribute to the age-related decline in gustatory function. The aims of the present study were to investigate taste perception in elderly hospitalized patients by comparing their taste recognition thresholds with those of healthy, free-living elderly individuals and to identify potential determinants of taste loss.
Methods: The participants in this observational study were 55 elderly patients hospitalized in the acute geriatric section of the Department of Medical and Surgical Sciences at Padova University and 41 free-living individuals aged older than 65 years, randomly recruited from elderly people attending mild fitness programs at public gymnasiums in Padova. Data were collected on nutrition, health, cognitive, and functional status for all participants. Gustatory capabilities were assessed using aqueous solutions of sucrose, sodium chloride, citric acid, and quinine hydrochloride (representing sweet, salty, sour, and bitter stimuli, respectively), and taste recognition thresholds were measured in both groups.
Results: In comparison with the free-living elderly subjects, those in hospital were significantly less able to recognize the taste of citric acid (P < 0.05). Low citric acid sensitivity was independently associated with advanced age (≥75 years; odds ratio [OR] 3.01, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.01–9.82), polypharmacy (number of prescribed drugs ≥ 4; OR 2.74, 95% CI 1.01–7.72), and poor nutritional status (as assessed by Mini Nutritional Assessment score < 23.5; OR 5.08, 95% CI 1.76–14.6).
Conclusion: Because gustatory impairment may reduce a person's appetite and lead to inadequate dietary intake, compensatory nutritional measures, such as the use of flavor-enhanced foods, should be strongly encouraged, particularly in the hospital setting.

Keywords: taste thresholds, taste loss, hospitalized elderly, sour stimuli, polypharmacy, malnutrition

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