Go to ewuu.nl

Savor the Flavor

Towards a better understanding of the link between sensory profiles of older adults with olfactory dysfunction and diet quality, to prevent non-communicable diseases

Olfactory dysfunction (OD) is a temporary condition for many COVID-19 patients, but about 3-22% of the population experience chronic (long-term) OD. Among older adults, that percentage even rises to 75% and is related to the aging process. OD can lead to reduced appetite and suboptimal food choices, and ultimately, for older adults, to ‘anorexia of aging’. In this project, a team of experts investigates the relationship between the sensory profile of older adults with OD and their dietary behaviors, and how innovative tools can stimulate improvement of diet quality and prevent noncommunicable diseases.

Olfaction (smell) and taste are connected as senses and together provide flavor perception. If the olfactory function is missing, the ability to perceive flavors is significantly impaired. Only the primary taste qualities such as sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (savory) are then perceptible. This can result in decreased appetite and food enjoyment, suboptimal food choices, leading to lower diet quality, which in older adults may contribute to “anorexia in aging.”

The effect of OD on dietary behaviors

It is known that impaired smell perception often (unconsciously) influences food choices, but there is little data to support the relationship between patients’ sensory profile (including type of smell alterations, taste preferences and culinary habits) and dietary behavior. Thus, it is important to explore the dietary taste patterns of older adults with OD to study the effect of their sensory profiles on their dietary behaviors.


The research team with experts from Eindhoven Technical University, Wageningen University & Research, Utrecht University and University Medical Center Utrecht, believes it is critical to provide these individuals with an innovative tool that promotes self-awareness of their dietary behaviors. A tool that enables them to make more informed food choices, but also guides them toward personalized choices that enhance food enjoyment. This will improve the quality of their diet and, in turn, prevent non-communicable diseases.

The research team will use chatbots for this, because of their ability to simulate human conversations. This personal touch may be particularly appealing to older adults who feel more comfortable and familiar with a conversational interface than with traditional software or websites. This can increase the likelihood of older adults providing accurate and comprehensive information.

The chatbot-based platform prototype will be based on an existing system developed for dietary monitoring of patients in cardiac rehabilitation. The project will adopt a multi-step research design that incorporates method development, interviews, co-creation workshops, chatbot design, and user evaluation.

In 2023, the project team received seed funding from the Institute for Preventive Health. They will use this to prepare a larger funding proposal for this project and to start collecting data and to develop and evaluate a chatbot prototype. During the course of this project, the team will share its findings, a.o. through i4PH’s communication channels.


Yuan Lu