Objective/design: To determine the nutritional risk associated with measured olfactory dysfunction in free-living, elderly women through analytic observational methods. Olfactory perception was measured orthonasally (odor: butanol threshold and odor identification) and retronasally (flavor: orange flavor threshold in sweetened gelatin).
Setting/subjects: Elderly women were recruited from New Haven, Conn, through posters and direct contact. Screening of 120 elderly women identified 80 with high personal functioning to participate (mean age = 76 +/- 6 years, range = 65 to 93 years). All data were collected in subjects' homes.
Main outcome measures: Nutritional risk was assessed in several ways: food behavior questionnaire; food preference questionnaire; interviews based on the National Cancer Institute food frequency questionnaire; five nonconsecutive, 24-hour food records; and weight, height, waist, and hip measurements.
Statistical analyses: Correlation and regression analyses determined the separate association between olfactory perception and nutrition variables.
Results: Nearly half of the women (37 of 80) had olfactory dysfunction. The following nutritional risk pattern was associated with lower olfactory perception: lower interest in food-related activities (eg, enjoying cooking, eating a wide variety of foods); lower preference for foods with predominant sour/bitter taste (eg, citrus fruits) or pungency (eg, horseradish); higher intake of sweets; less intake of low-fat milk products; and nutrient intake profile indicative of higher risk for cardiac disease.
Applications: Olfactory dysfunction may make it more difficult for elderly women to maintain a diet to control risk for chronic disease. Practitioners should target nutrition intervention to elderly women with measured or self rated difficulty in preventing odors or olfactory flavor. Capitalizing on primary-taste quality and texture may help to compensate for the loss of olfactory flavor perception.