The food here is tasteless! Food taste or tasteless food? :Chermosensory loss and the politics of under-nutrition

Publication Date



A common complaint voiced by older people living in residential care is that the food lacks taste. When older people find food tasteless, the pleasure gained from eating and therefore, their appetite may be compromised, as will their food choices, nutrition, immune systems, functional status and well-being. However, often nurses overlook these symptoms as ‘inevitable and irreversible’ aspects of ageing, which they are not. In fact, many older people experience chemosensory (taste and smell) disorders or loss which means they lose the ability to taste the flavour of food. Commonly overlooked is the fact that chemosensory loss may well be a significant contributing factor to the high level of under-nutrition reported in residential care in Australia.

Our purpose in this article is to explore important issues related to taste and smell dysfunction; the physiology of these sensations; several causes distinct from ageing; and interventions to help older people again enjoy their food with the concomitant advantages to their health and well-being. We also consider the way in which legislation related to Government funding has influenced gerontological nurses’ assessment skills and values, particularly concerning nutrition assessment to the detriment of not only older people living in residential care but also the profession of gerontological nursing. Attention is drawn to the need for nurses to up-date their clinical knowledge, assessment skills and practice including enhancing the flavour of food and the social occasion of dining for older people living in residential care.


School of Nursing, Midwifery & Paramedicine

Document Type

Journal Article

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ERA Access