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Brain injury and the impact on the senses of taste and smell

A brain injury can cause changes to a person’s sense of taste and smell and have a real effect on their day-to-day life and this must be recognised within their personal injury claim. Read Hannah's story with a note from Katherine Wilkinson, a solicitor in the personal injury department.

Posted on 23 March 2021

Hannah was 32 years old when she was involved in a road traffic collision while walking to work one morning. She was taken to hospital by ambulance, where she underwent investigations and was diagnosed with a severe traumatic brain injury.

Around one week after her discharge from hospital, Hannah’s father cooked her a favourite childhood meal, but she realised that she could not taste it at all, which she found incredibly upsetting.

Hannah remained off work from her city job for three months before making a phased return.

Two years after the collision, Hannah’s ongoing symptoms included fatigue, headaches, memory problems, lack of concentration, confidence and motivation, anxiety and word-finding difficulties. Her sense of taste and smell had also not returned.

Hannah’s loss of taste and smell had a big impact on her day-to-day living. She had to be very careful about what she ate and on a number of occasions she ate food that had gone off, completely unaware that it tasted off until she was alerted by someone else. Hannah stopped taking in leftovers for lunch at work, as she did not want to risk them having gone off, so she started to incur the cost of paying for fresh lunch every day.

Before the collision, Hannah had enjoyed going to restaurants with friends and described herself as a “foodie”. She stopped going to restaurants as frequently as she could no longer share the enjoyment of the food with her friends and family; this impacted on her social life and relationships. There were also safety implications in terms of eating out - on one occasion she suffered a severe all-over body rash after eating at a restaurant and was advised by her doctor that she had suffered food poisoning.

Hannah sought specialist advice to try to find ways to still enjoy food. She watched videos of people describing the taste of food and tried to make meals with many textures and colours, to keep her food interesting.

She used to love to cook for friends and family, but began burning food more and became worried about her safety. The cost of heat, smoke, and carbon monoxide alarms was reflected within her claim.

Two years after suffering her injuries, Hannah had a baby. While breast feeding, she felt unable to express her milk because she worried about it being contaminated without her knowing. She worried about the impact of her loss of taste and smell on her ability to feed her child solid foods, and became anxious about accidentally feeding him food that had gone off. Hannah was unable to smell when her baby’s nappy needed to be changed, or if he needed bathing after excessive sweating, and she relied upon her partner to provide additional assistance with childcare; the cost of which was included within her claim.

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A brain injury can cause changes to a person’s sense of taste and smell and have a real effect on their day-to-day life and this must be recognised within their personal injury claim.

Chemosensation refers to the senses of taste and smell – two of the least studied sensations in medicine.  Taste and smell are closely connected and much of the sensation of taste is due to smell, so a disorder of smell is often combined with a disorder of taste.

Loss of taste and smell are often not reported until weeks after trauma (if at all) especially when there are competing injuries elsewhere. Many clients will be unaware that there is a significant defect for some time.

Sense of smell

Anosmia

Total loss of sense of smell

Hyposmia

Reduced sense of smell

parosmia / Phantosmia

Perceiving smells that aren’t there

Hyperosmia

Enhanced sensitivity to odours

 

Sense of taste

Ageusia

Total loss of sense of taste

Dysgeusia

Distortion or decrease in the sense of taste

Parageusia

Perceiving a bad taste in the mouth

Dysgensia

Persistent abnormal taste

 

Our personal injury solicitors will consider the impact of any issues with a client’s taste or smell on their activities of daily living within their claim, for example, securing funding from specialists, such as occupational therapists, dieticians, and psychologists, to help clients with:

  • Safety

Out-of-date food: clients with no sense of taste must be careful regarding out-of-date food and have specialist advice on tips and techniques to ensure that food is thrown out by its ‘use-by’

Clients must take extra precautions with products containing toxic fumes, such as paint; it may be that they require professional assistance with tasks involving these products.

  •  Eating

Loss or change of the taste and smell of food can lead to reduced enjoyment in food and loss of appetite. Advice from a dietitian might be needed to obtain expert advice on how to make food enjoyable.

  •  Hygiene

Personal hygiene: clients have to be more aware of the need to wash themselves and their clothing regularly and have the professional assistance to do so if needed. For example, an occupational therapist to assist with establishing routines and domestic help to assist with these tasks.

Home hygiene: clients have to be more aware of the need to regularly wash their bed linen and take out the rubbish bins - and be assisted to do so where appropriate. Clients might require funds for a cleaner to assist with this.

  • Psychological

The senses of taste and smell are linked to emotions, memory and attraction, so it can have a real psychological impact when this part of a person’s life is impacted upon. People often describe feeling isolated as a result of their loss of taste and smell. Funding for psychological support may be required and should be considered within the personal injury claim.

  • Impact on employment

Lack of smell or taste can have a major impact on a person’s profession, for example if they are involved in cooking, bar work, wine tasting, exposure to natural gas or work in the Armed Services. Any loss of earnings will need to be fully quantified within their personal injury claim.

  • Obtaining funds to purchase aids and equipment:

For clients with no sense of smell, it is important to ensure that they have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms fitted and regularly tested.

For more information about how our team may be able to help you following a brain injury and resulting loss of senses, please get in touch, or visit our Brain Injury page.

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Katherine Wilkinson
Amputation Brain injury Road traffic collisions Spinal injury Inquests

Katherine Wilkinson

Katherine is a solicitor in the personal injury department.

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