Life Without Smell and Taste

By Joanne Phillips, MS, RD

Written in 2013 (almost 6 years after TBI)

Out of the five senses, smell is often viewed as the least important. It is often only when the sense is gone or severely diminished, that we come to appreciate its importance to our quality of life. The loss of ability to perceive smell is referred to as ‘Anosmia’. The sense of smell originates from the olfactory nerves which sit at the base of the brain’s Frontal Lobes, right behind the eyes and above the nose.

A traumatic brain injury can result in damage to areas connected to smell perception. Such damage often occurs without physical damage to the nose. Our sense of taste is closely associated with our sense of smell, which is responsible for about 80% of what we taste.  So impaired or loss of smell will often lead to a reduction or complete loss in taste. Olfaction is handled by the same part of the brain (the limbic system, I mentioned this very important system in my last post) that handles memories and emotions. Therefore, our sense of smell has strong ties to our MEMORIES. We may not be able put a name to everything we smell but they have a strong emotional association even if they cannot be specifically identified.

As for me, it is so hard to put into words just how difficult it has been to live life without my smell and taste.  I have spent the last 6 years in a sterile bubble of nothing.  No enjoyment of the flavor of food and all the smells (both good and bad) that life has to offer.

I have shed countless tears not being able to smell air, yes you read it correctly, I said AIR!  You know the air smell I am talking about…..the smell of the air that hits your face when you first walk outside, the air you smell at the beach that is mixed with salt water and sun tan lotion, the air that lets you know Spring is coming, the air that smells like a crisp Fall day, the air outside the supermarket at Christmas time that is filled with the scent of pine trees, the air after a summer rain, the air when you walk into your house that whispers “I’m home”.

People ask if I can remember what something tasted like or what something smelled like, honestly, I cannot.  These senses are very difficult to recreate in one’s mind.  You can close your eyes and picture a beach but trying to recreate a taste or a smell I found to be impossible.

Our ability to smell and taste are true gifts; please NEVER take ANY them for granted!

Oh, one more thing, my parents sold my childhood house this past summer and I remember saying to my mom “I never got to smell this house again”

What are YOUR favorite smells? What memories do that trigger for you? Please share as a way of showing gratitude for these wonderful senses that you were blessed with!

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