Why Do Seniors Develop a Sweet Tooth in Later Years?

By , 9:00 am on

Many seniors have a sweet tooth. Even those who never craved sweets before often find themselves snacking on candy as they age. There are several reasons for this phenomenon, and there are also several healthy alternatives that may prove effective.

Changing Taste Buds

Alterations in food preference are often caused by physiological changes. As the body changes, so does the average senior’s ability to perceive and appreciate varied flavors. Young adults usually have between 10,000 and 15,000 taste buds, which allow them to detect different types of tastes, such as salty, sour, bitter, and sweet. By the time seniors reach age 70, the number of taste buds can decrease by more than 60 percent, which impacts the ability to detect flavors, and food may start to taste bland or boring.

Other Physical Concerns

Changes to the taste buds have an obvious correlation with changes in food cravings. However, this isn’t the only physiological change that affects taste. The ability to detect flavor is also impacted by a diminished sense of smell. Seniors usually have fewer nerve endings in the nose, which can blunt the ability to smell and taste. They may also experience diminished saliva production, which can affect overall appetite as well as food preferences. Seniors with chronic dry mouth should make sure to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. 

Some seniors find it difficult to eat healthy and stay hydrated because of health conditions or mobility issues. Living with a serious health condition can make it challenging for seniors to age in place. However, they can maintain a higher quality of life with the help of professional live-in care. Mesa seniors can benefit from assistance with meal prep, bathing, transportation to the doctor’s office, medication reminders, and much more.

The Appeal of Sweets

There are several possible reasons seniors crave sweets. For many seniors with a diminished flavor palate, sweets are simply easier to taste than blander foods. These seniors naturally gravitate toward the sugar-heavy foods their taste buds still recognize. In other cases, sugar cravings are the side effect of an inadequate diet. Without enough carbohydrates, which provide essential energy, the body starts to crave sweet foods. The sweet foods (such as chocolate) the body craves don’t provide as much energy as healthier carbohydrates, such as whole-grain cereals and bread.

Sweets and Alzheimer’s Disease

Seniors with Alzheimer’s are also known to have sweet cravings. They experience the same physiological changes as other seniors as well as Alzheimer’s-specific taste changes. The condition impacts the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for self-restraint and self-regulation. When this part of the brain is attacked, seniors may develop preferences for high-calorie sweets. 

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s poses special challenges for family caregivers, but expert professional help is available. Families looking for top-rated Mesa in-home care providers can reach out to Home Care Assistance. From respite care to specialized Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke, and Parkinson’s care, there are many ways we can make life easier for seniors and their loved ones.

How to Manage Cravings

There are several things seniors and their caregivers can do to address sweet cravings. One of the easiest ways is to sate sugar cravings with healthy foods rather than candy. Opt for fruit salads, sweetened rice cakes, granola and yogurt, or applesauce. Seniors can also try to redirect their cravings via habit substitution. For example, if they go for a walk every time they want to eat a piece of chocolate, it reroutes the circuits in the brain, and eventually, sugar cravings become more associated with the healthier activity. For seniors with Alzheimer’s, it’s important to strengthen the part of the brain associated with dietary restraint, which can be accomplished via regular sleep and physical and mental exercise. At mealtimes, seniors with Alzheimer’s are more likely to eat healthy foods if the environment is quiet and free of distractions.

Limiting consumption of sweets is part of an overall healthy lifestyle, and some seniors need help when it comes to managing nutrition. Not every senior has the same care needs, which means they don’t all need the same type of home care. Mesa families can rely on Home Care Assistance to provide individualized care plans to meet your elderly loved one’s unique care needs. Our holistic Balanced Care Method was designed to help seniors focus on healthy lifestyle habits such as eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, and maintaining strong social ties, and our Cognitive Therapeutics Method offers mentally stimulating activities that can stave off cognitive decline and delay the onset of dementia. Call one of our dedicated Care Managers today at (480) 699-4899 to learn about the high quality of our in-home care services.