When This Sense Fails, Death Is Near

After age 70, impairment of this one sense is linked with risk of death

| Smithsonian – A new study finds older people who score poorly on a sniff test are 46 percent more likely to die over the next 10 years, but researchers don’t know why

Sadly, as people age, almost all the senses decline to varying degrees, including sight, hearing and, less obviously, the sense of smell.

But in recent years, researchers have found that dramatic declines in olfactory function can be an early sign of dementia or Parkinson’s. But a new study shows a reduced sense of smell is also linked to an overall increased risk of death.

Nicola Davis at The Guardian reports that an international team of researchers looked at smell tests taken by more than 2,200 people between the age of 71 and 82 years old in 1999 and 2000 as part of the National Institute on Aging’s Health ABC study.

Each participant smelled 12 common scents and were asked to choose the smell from a list of four possibilities.

The sniffers were then graded as having either good, moderate or poor olfactory function. The health outcomes of these individuals were then followed up for 13 years including yearly phone surveys.

After compensating for other health factors like age and smoking, the team found that those elderly people with a poor sense of smell had a 46 percent higher chance of dying a decade out from the test than those with a good sense of smell.

Even more, the sense of smell was a particularly good predictor of death for those who were in good health at the beginning of the study.

Among those with a sniff score rated poor who were in decent shape, the chance of dying by year 10 was 62 percent higher than those with a good score. Read more. 

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