Why losing your sense of smell in old age is a major red flag

Researchers examined more than 2,200 participants between ages 71 and 82 where they were administered a smell test of a dozen common odors.

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Losing your sense of smell might be an early predictor of death, according to a new study.

While a human’s sense of smell dissipates with old age, elderly adults who had trouble identifying common scents are apparently knocking on death’s door, having nearly a 50% likelihood of dying within the next 10 years, according to a new study published in Annals of Internal Medicine.


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The findings

Researchers examined more than 2,200 participants between ages 71 and 82 where they were administered a smell test of a dozen common odors that are experienced in daily life.

Participants were given multiple choices and were asked to identify the scent, where they were then classified by a ranking system as either good, moderator, or poor based on their responses.

Researchers found that those with poor olfaction had a 46% higher mortality at year 10 compared to those who were deemed to have a better sense of smell. The study also said those who scored poorly had a 30% more likely chance they’d die after 13 years.

“It tells us that in older adults, impaired sense of smell has broader implications of health beyond what we have already known,” said Honglei Chen, an epidemiologist at Michigan State University. “Incorporating a sense of smell screening in routine doctor visits might be a good idea at some point.”

When analyzing the data, researchers concluded that having a poor sense of smell was linked to deaths from Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and chronic kidney disease.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders claims smell disorders are caused after recent illness or injury. Common causes of smell disorders include smoking, dental problems, and chemical exposure.


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Kyle Schnitzer|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at kschnitzer@theladders.com.