Handout: Coping with the Loss of Taste after Stroke or TBI
Handout for people coping with the loss of taste after surviving a brain injury or undergoing radiation treatment for head and neck cancer.
It’s difficult to find statistics for the number of Americans who suffer from anosmia and/or ageusia. Generally, the accepted number hovers around 2 million cases, however a study by Claire Murphy, psychology professor at San Diego State University puts it closer to 14 million.
Whatever the statistics are, I’m sure they are high at your facility. Strokes, brain injuries, aging, cancer treatments, neurological diagnoses, all can lead to the loss of the sense of taste and/or smell. And this loss is devastating.
Research into anosmia and ageusia is limited. Research by Professor Thomas Hummel, who runs the Smell and Taste Clinic at the University of Dresden in Germany, found that smelling certain strong odors - including rose oil, lemon and cloves - repeatedly over a 12-week period resulted in some improvement in olfactory function. Researchers continue to learn more and more, but it is a slow and tedious process, leaving us to rely on the usual tips and tricks of the trade to improve the sensation of taste- using temperatures, colors, and textures to make food more enjoyable. Currently, we have no clinical options as SLPs to ultimately repair and drastically improve taste and thus help prevent the unintentional weight loss and depression that stems from these afflictions.
The loss of taste and smell is devastating. In an interview with the BBC, Professor Barry C Smith, co-director and founder of the Centre for the Study of the Senses notes that, "Studies have shown that people who lose their sense of smell end up more severely depressed and for longer periods of time than people who go blind.”
Like many disabilities that are invisible, it starts by having a clinician listen and acknowledge that their sense of smell or taste is gone. Our ability to help resolve the problem is limited, and therefore, I believe one reason why many medical staff don’t broach the subject. I still think it’s worth a conversation with the patient and worth a little time exploring how to alter their food’s taste, texture, color, and temperature to achieve a little more pleasure in eating.
This handout is meant to start the conversation and help patients feel less alone in their world of tasteless, bland food.
Fifth Sense Based in the UK, Fifth Sense support people affected by smell and taste disorders across the world, and are the first charity providing direct support, advice, and a signpost to potential diagnosis and treatment to people affected by such conditions.