Early next century there will be more Europeans over 60 years old than under 20. A major European funded project currently underway will examine the factors that determine food choice and acceptance for older people in a bid to improve nutritional intake among the elder population.
HealthSense, co-ordinated by Dr Conor Delahunty, at University College Cork in Ireland, has three key objectives: to obtain scientific data on the relationship between sensory physiology and food preferences; to study how sensory function deteriorates with ageing; and to determine how this affects food preferences and general well-being in older people to understand how the attitudes and behaviours of older people influence food choice.
The researchers developed, and validated, easy-to-use tests that measure a person's ability to perceive a food's sensory properties, for example, texture, odour and taste.
When applied to a diverse sample of people in terms of age and culture, it was found that the performance of each of the sensory abilities measured declined with advancing age. However, loss of ability was not uniform across all senses. Studies in progress will determine the influence of these changes on food preferences and intake, and determine a means to compensate for loss of sensory abilities that will re-introduce sensory satisfaction. Recommendations will be made when the attitudes and behaviours of older people have been fully considered.
When the project is completed, the co-ordinators will publish the results in a format that can be used by the scientific community, policy makers, the food industry and consumer organisations that support the elderly.