Poor Sense of Smell May Predict Death


  • Compared to loss of hearing or deteriorating eyesight, poor sense of smell can be something that might go unnoticed.
  • Research claims that poor olfactory sense is linked to death among the elderly.
  • Studies show that diminishing sense of smell may be a warning sign for other serious health conditions that may lead to fatal risk.

A recent study gave evidence that a poor sense of smell may lead to early death among the aging population. The research was published on April 29 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

It has been found that there is a 46% increased risk of dying after 10 years among elderly people whose sense of smell scored poor, compared to those who passed the olfactory tests. The study also indicated that there is a 28% higher risk of death that may be related to existing physical conditions such as dementia, malnutrition and Parkinson’s – diseases that may lead to death but may also affect a person’s olfactory ability. The rest, however, can be attributed to other health conditions that may eventually be fatal.

The research states that the decline in sense of smell is a symptom that can easily be overlooked, unlike hearing loss or vision problems.

The Health ABC study is the main data source for epidemiologist Honglei Chen and his co-authors from Michigan State University. Data was collected from 3,000 elderly individuals, with ages ranging from 70 to 79, from the Tennessee, Memphis and Pittsburgh areas between the years ’97 and ’98.

The individuals were to remain in the study until their deaths, or up until 2014 (whichever happens first). At the early stages of the study, an olfaction test was completed by 2,300 of the recruited elderly subjects – the test involves identifying 12 common smells.

For the duration of 13 years, approximately 1,200 individuals died. Researchers found out that compared to those who passed the smell test, those who had low scores on the smell test had a 46% higher risk of death by the 10th year, and a 30% increased risk of dying by the 13th year.

Chen and his team of researchers also investigated the relation of the neurological effects caused by Parkinson’s and dementia to a person’s sense of smell. Weight loss and malnutrition are also conditions that are subject to further investigation.

However, even when these conditions are factored in, a poor olfactory sense gives evidence to 70% of the differences in the times of deaths, according to the paper. Therefore, poor sense of smell may actually be a good way to quantify health.

The study investigators concluded that “Poor olfaction among older adults with excellent to good health may be an early warning sign for insidious adverse health conditions that eventually lead to death.”


Source: Live Science

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