Q. What is a taste disorder?

There are several types of taste disorders. You can have a persistent bad taste in the mouth. This is called a dysgeusia. Some people have hypogeusia, or the reduced ability to taste. Others can't detect taste at all, which is called ageusia. People with taste disorders experience a specific ageusia of one or more of the five taste categories: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory.

The most common complaint is "phantom taste perception," which is tasting something that isn't there.

If you think you have a taste disorder, see your doctor. Diagnosis of a taste disorder is important because once the cause is found, your doctor may be able to treat your taste disorder. Many types of taste disorders are reversible, but, if not, counseling and self-help techniques may help you cope.

If you cannot regain your sense of taste, there are things you can do to ensure your safety. Take extra care to avoid food that may have spoiled. If you live with other people, ask them to smell and taste food to see if it is fresh. People who live alone should discard food if there is a chance it is spoiled.

Q. What causes Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a complex disorder of the central nervous system. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease in the United States, after Alzheimer's.

The defining symptoms of PD include tremor, slowness of movement, rigidity, and impaired balance and coordination. As these symptoms become more pronounced, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing simple tasks. They also may experience depression, difficulty sleeping and other problems.

In the early 1960s, scientists determined that the loss of brain cells was causing PD. The cells that were depleted produced dopamine, a chemical that helps control muscle activity. Today, PD is treated with drugs and surgery.

Medications for PD fall into three categories. The first includes drugs that increase the level of dopamine in the brain. The second category affects neurotransmitters in the body to ease some of the symptoms of the disease. The third category includes medications that help control the non-motor symptoms of the disease such as depression.

There are two commonly used surgical treatments for PD: pallidotomy and deep brain stimulation. Because these procedures are invasive, they are usually reserved for severely afflicted Parkinson's patients who do not get adequate relief from medications.

Q. What percentage of older men have erectile dysfunction?

The incidence of ED increases with age. Between 15 and 25 percent of 65-year-old men experience this problem. In older men, ED usually has a physical cause, such as a drug side effect, disease or injury. Anything that damages the nerves or impairs blood flow in the penis can cause ED.

The following are some leading causes of erectile dysfunction: diabetes, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), prostate surgery, hormone imbalance, alcohol and drug abuse.

And, of course, there are your emotions. It should be no surprise that, if you're having a relationship problem with your sex partner, you can suffer from ED. Here are some other psychological influences: anxiety over a previous failure, everyday stress, depression, and feeling unattractive to your partner. If you're suffering from ED, you should see your doctor for a discussion and physical exam.

Monitoring erections that occur during sleep can help the diagnosis. Healthy men have involuntary erections during sleep. If nocturnal erections do not occur, then ED is likely to have a physical rather than psychological cause. Tests of nocturnal erections are not completely reliable, however.

If you would like to read more columns, you can order a copy of "How to be a Healthy Geezer" at www.healthygeezer.com [1].

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