Of the five senses, the sense of smell is the least
appreciated. When a child is born, we test for sight and
hearing. At first, it is just to ascertain that these senses
function. Sensory integration, which means the correct
functioning of the senses, is not noticed till later. There
have been articles in this paper about sensory integrative
dysfunction with regard to sight, hearing and touch.
An occupational therapist who did much research on the
subject describes sensory information as food for the brain.
She asserts that difficulty in organizing sensory information
is like indigestion, or perhaps a traffic jam. When the
senses function smoothly, the impulses flow to the brain
swiftly and easily. When there is some sensory dysfunction,
either too much or too little, the impulses get `tied up in
the traffic' and certain parts of the brain do not get the
information they need to do their job.
Most attention is paid to sight and hearing, and to the
correction of these senses if need be. Touch has started to
gain importance, with more and more research being done in
this field. It is common knowledge that taste and smell are
closely connected. The taste buds of the tongue identify the
taste, the nerves in the nose identify the smell. Both
sensations are comunicated to the brain, which combines the
information to recognize and appreciate flavors. Sour, sweet,
bitter and salt, can be recognized without the sense of
If someone remarks wryly that something `tastes of petrol,'
it does not mean that he has ever tasted petrol [gasoline].
Food often doesn't taste right to people who have a cold. Flu
can temporarily damage the cells which sense smell. It might
be days or even weeks till the nerves recover fully. Anosmia
is the fancy name for the loss or reduction in the sense of
smell. There are very few people who are born without the
sense of smell, although, as with the other senses, some have
a more acute sense of smell than others. Some children
actually suffer in school if their neighbor does not smell as
fresh as he should! They have to learn to live with this
As people age, they commonly experience progressive
impairment in all their senses. The most publicized sensory
losses are sight and hearing. Olfactory loss is no exception.
The food tastes bland and people lose interest in eating.
Relatives, or the sufferers themselves, have to try and
devise ways to make eating enjoyable again. Eating a hot meal
together with a cold salad allows for different temperatures
to be experienced at the same time. Raw and partially cooked
vegetables combined with fully cooked vegetables allow the
person to experience, enjoy and compare the different
textures. For those who enjoy it, hot spicy food causes
sensations on the tongue.
Unlike animals who have whiskers, and some who do not, humans
do not need the sense of smell for survival. However, the
sense of smell can protect people and it also makes life far
more enjoyable. (No, not always. Adults with an overdeveloped
olfactory sense suffer as much as children who have the same
complaint!) The sense of smell is not only important for
taste but is also essential for detecting gas leaks, smoke,
or if the food is still good. Indeed, old people living alone
who suffer from anosmia are in real danger of poisoning
themselves with spoiled food.
Because anosmia results from an olfactory deficit, there is
usally a loss of taste. An elderly person probably notices
that food is tasteless before s/he notices the reduction in a
sense of smell. The desire for food is diminished because the
tantalizing smells are not there. Moreover, the sufferer
knows that the food is not as tasty as it used to be, and is
inclined to skip meals altogether.
Dovid Hamelech mentions this phenomenon in Tehillim
107:18, at the same time advising us to appreciate all our
faculties and publicize our gratitude.
This is part of the kapporos text: "Their soul abhors
all foods and they reach the gates of death." He then adds,
"Give thanks to Hashem for His kindness, and proclaim His
wonders to the sons of man."