Poor sense of smell linked to early death, study reveals

Caroline Allen
Older adults who can’t distinguish between well-known smells are 50 per cent more likely to die over a decade, the study discovered. [Photo: Getty]

Older adults who are unable to distinguish between well-known smells are just under 50 per cent more likely to die over the following decade, research has found.

The study suggests that an impaired sense of smell could be a key indicator of early illness. It could even become a routine part of a person’s GP check-up.

Almost 2300 men and women aged between 71 and 82 took part in Aging’s Health ABC Study.

Participants were asked to identify 12 well-known smells, which included smoke, cinnamon, lemon and petrol.

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The researchers then ranked their sense of smell as poor, moderate or good based on how well they performed.

In comparison to those with a good sense of smell, those who ranked as “poor” were almost 50 per cent more likely to die after 10 years.

They tracked the participants over the next 13 years to establish the correlation. The smell test didn’t just uncover trends amongst the unhealthier participants, either.

The study revealed that people with the poorest sense of smell were more likely to die of cancer or a respiratory illness. It was, however, most strongly associated with Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

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Honglei Chen of Michigan State University was one of the researchers on the study. 

He said: “In the future, as these potential health implications are unveiled, it may not be a bad idea to include a sense of smell test as part of your doctor’s visit.”

Most people don’t know that their sense of smell has degraded because it’s not something we commonly test for.

The scent test was most accurate in people who were healthy, leading the researchers to believe it’s a useful warning indicator for people without any other symptoms.

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