Lost your sense of smell? See your doctor, soon

noseMany people’s senses begin to decline with age, particularly eyesight and hearing. People’s sense of smell and taste also frequently become less sharp after around age 70. This is often simply accepted as a sign of age.

But a recent and widely publicized study by doctors at The University of Chicago found that inability to distinguish between different odors was a remarkably reliable indicator of impending demise.

The doctors tested over 3,000 people between ages 57 and 85 with aroma-dispensing sticks that gave off five scents: peppermint, orange, rose, leather, and fish. Nearly 78 percent of subjects could correctly identify four or all five scents. But 3.5 percent were unable to name more than one scent.

The doctors then followed up with the respondents over the next five years. The study found that those who were unable to distinguish more than one scent were three times as likely to be dead within five years as those who correctly identified all five scents.

Even after controlling for age, gender, socioeconomic status, overall health, and cognitive function, the researchers still found that lack of a sense of smell was a reliable indicator of impending death. More reliable than cancer, or heart or lung disease.

The exact cause of the connection was unclear, but researchers have a couple of theories. The olfactory nerve is the only nerve in the head that is directly exposed to the outside. A decline in sense of smell could indicate that the body overall is getting beaten down, by pollutants, toxins, and even microorganisms. Also, the body’s olfactory system relies on continuous regeneration of stem cells; researchers theorize that a decline in smell could indicate the body as a whole is losing its ability to repair and regenerate itself.

The researchers expect the smell test to become widely used in doctors’ offices as a quick and inexpensive overall health test. Meanwhile, if you notice your olfactory sense has been declining, it might be a good idea to get yourself to your physician and urge them to find out what’s going on.

Popular posts