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Taste perception has been studied frequently in young and older adult groups. This paper systematically reviews these studies to determine the effect of ageing on taste perception and establish the reported extent of sensory decline. Five databases were searched from 1900 to April 2012. Articles relating to healthy ageing in human subjects were included, reviewed and rated (Downs and Black scoring system). Sixty-nine studies investigated the effect of ageing on taste perception; forty examined detection thresholds of which twenty-three provided sufficient data for meta-analysis, eighteen reported identification thresholds and twenty-five considered supra-threshold intensity perception. Researchers investigating detection thresholds considered between one and thirteen taste compounds per paper. Overall, the consensus was that taste detection thresholds increased with age (Hedges’ g = 0·91, P < 0·001), across all taste modalities. Identification thresholds were reported to be higher for older adults in seventeen out of eighteen studies. Sixteen out of twenty-five studies reported perception of taste intensity at supra-threshold levels to be significantly lower for older adults. However, six out of nine studies concerning sucrose found perceived intensity of sweet taste not to diminish with age. The findings of this systematic review suggest taste perception declines during the healthy ageing process, although the extent of decline varies between studies. Overall, the studies reviewed had low Downs and Black scores (mean 16 (SD 2)) highlighting the need for more robust large scale and longitudinal studies monitoring the impact of ageing on the sensory system, and how this influences the perception of foods and beverages.
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