The acuity of senses like taste and smell, essential for our enjoyment of food and drink, decreases with age. Such changes in sensory capacities will clearly have an impact on the choice the older consumer makes with regards to their food preferences.
Although scientifically this deterioration has already been well established, the extent of the deterioration, and its effect on how we choose food, has not been widely investigated. Yet, as the elderly population in Europe is increasing, it is likely that this important population group will require, or demand, health-promoting foods more than any other group.
A European project, led by Dr. Conor Delahunty at the University College Cork, Ireland, is currently tackling these issues with the objective to understand how ageing degrades senses, how this affects older people's preferences and general well-being, and finally how our seniors deal with issues related to food and choice.
Under the project ' Health-sense', the senses of consumers from different age groups in five European countries were tested. The researchers confirmed that the performance of all senses decreased with advancing age, with poorest performance in the oldest age groups. A relationship between sensory ability and food preferences was also determined. Scientists noticed, for example, that texture preferences changed with age.
Based on these results, the scientists developed optimised foods for elderly people, which are currently undergoing consumer tests. The researchers write that the results will determine which foods are really preferred by older consumers, and from this point, they aim to provide guidance for tailoring the taste and texture of foods to older consumers, with a view to improving their nutritional status.
The results will likely offer food manufacturers new opportunities to approach the third generation.