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Loss of Smell May Signal Dementia, Death Likelihood

June 15, 2015

Depending on how well your olfactory system is working, your sense of smell could predict your likelihood of death within 5 years. Recent studies tested over 1000 older adults from a wide range of ethnicities. Each participant was given 40 different scents to sniff and identify from a multiple choice list with four different possibilities. This was followed up every two years over an average of four years using either interviews or the National Death Index.

The findings from the studies revealed that 30% of participants died during the period of follow-up investigations. The results showed that those that died were generally older, male, had low scores on the smell identification test and were likely to be diagnosed with dementia. The perceived relationship was still observed even after things like sex, education, depression, medical burden, smoking and BMI were controlled for. The participants falling within the lower end of the bracket of the sniff tests had a 45% mortality rate compared with 18% for those with the highest scores.

You cannot discern between the cause and effect of the tests, but only identify that an association exists. However, scientists can suggest that the reduced olfactory function may be an indicator that damage has occurred in the body. The olfactory system is linked to the central nervous system and is a good predictor that damage could be significant. Although not being able to smell and identify every scent  does not mean you are going to die, but it could indicate a likelihood in older adults. The best way to study more about this is to test every age group.


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