This study assessed the relation of an impaired taste and smell perception with (a) potential determinants and (b) nutritional intake and status in elderly people. Determinants examined were age, gender, functional category (institutionalized vs independently living), dental state, illnesses, smoking behavior, drug usage, and saliva excretion and composition. Nutritional intake and status were measured by an "appetite and hunger" questionnaire, a food frequency questionnaire, and body mass index (BMI). In order to have access to a large heterogeneous group, two different categories of elderly people were studied. We enrolled independently living elders (n=89) assumed to have a relatively good taste and smell perception, and institutionalized elders (n=67) with a potential poorer taste and smell perception. Scores at the smell identification (range: 0-10) and taste perception (range: 0-4) test were, respectively, 5.7 (independently living) versus 3.5 (institutionalized); p < .0001 and 3.3 versus 3.0; p < .05. Correlation between smell test scores and outcomes of the "appetite and hunger" questionnaire ranged from r: .19 to .50; p values < .05. There was, however, no clear correlation of any sensory outcome with energy and food intake, nor with BMI. Regression analyses revealed that age and the functional category were the most important determinants of the scores on the taste perception and smell identification tests. It is concluded that a poor performance on sensory tests is related to a poor appetite but not necessarily to low energy intake or low BMI. Age-related factors and smoking are important determinants of impaired sensory functioning.
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