Smell and taste in palliative care: a systematic analysis of literature

Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2015 Feb;272(2):279-88. doi: 10.1007/s00405-014-3016-4. Epub 2014 Apr 5.


Little is known on the role of the senses smell and taste in end-of-life care. The presented systematic literature analysis investigates the significance of smell and taste in palliative care. The online databases PubMed, CINAHL, MEDLINE, Deutsche Nationalbibliothek and British National Library were searched for English and German literature published between 1970 and April 2013 containing any kind of original data on the impact of smell and taste in patients in a palliative care situation. All retrieved publications were screened for relevance and full text was obtained for all articles identified as relevant. We integrated 13 papers for further analysis (explorative surveys 5, clinical trials 3, case studies 2, qualitative study 1, brief report 1, clinical report 1). Prevalence of smell and taste alterations in palliative care ranges between 60 and 86%. Existing literature reflects the significance of smells and tastes in palliative care setting in two main streams--smell and taste alterations as symptoms and malodorous wounds. Prevalence of smell and taste alterations in palliative care is high. However, in palliative care literature concepts for the assessment and fostering of subjective significance of smell and taste and the individual impact of significant smells and tastes are predominantly neglected. Available instruments should be characterized, validated and adapted for the use for palliative care patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Odorants
  • Olfaction Disorders / etiology*
  • Palliative Care*
  • Smell*
  • Taste Disorders / etiology*
  • Taste*
  • Terminally Ill*
  • Wounds and Injuries / complications