Losing sense of smell can be fatal sign

Older adults with a poor sense of smell had a 46 percent higher risk of dying within 10 years

Older adults with a poor sense of smell had a 46 percent higher risk of dying within 10 years

While older adults rarely receive screenings for sense of smell, the researchers hope physicians will consider the practice for regular exams. The test involved participants smelling 12 different common odours, such the scent of strawberries, and choosing the identity of each from four possible answers.

During the total follow-up period of 13 years, about 1,200 study participants died.

Those who had a poor sense of smell were 46 per cent more likely to die within 10 years than those who possessed a good one.

"The association was largely limited to participants who reported good-to-excellent health at enrollment, suggesting that poor sense of smell is an early and sensitive sign for deteriorating health before it is clinically recognizable", senior author Honglei Chen of Michigan State University told Reuters.

The participants were classified as having a good, moderate or poor sense of smell and tracked for the next 13 years.

Elderly people with a poor sense of smell have a higher likelihood of dying in the 10 years after testing than those whose sniffers stay sharp.

With a poor sense of smell, people were more likely to die of neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases, but not of cancer or respiratory conditions.

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The researchers, writing in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal, said poor sense of smell is already known to bee an early sign of Parkinson's disease and dementia and is also linked to weight loss.

Even worse, the new study showed that a loss of smell did indeed serve as a warning that death could be approaching.

The authors wrote: "This study provides clear evidence of an association between poor olfaction and long-term mortality among older adults".

"While scientists are exploring the potential of smell tests to help detect diseases like Alzheimer's at an early stage, these need to be refined and carefully evaluated in clinical trials before they could be used to support a diagnosis". Researchers also lacked data on certain medical causes of a weak nose such as nasal surgery or chronic rhinosinusitis that are not related to aging. Some studies have linked the decline in sense of smell to risk of death within five years of the decline's onset, but that research didn't control for demographics such as sex and race, or health characteristics that might explain the links between sensory loss and death.

"As we age, we may be unaware of declining olfactory abilities", Kamath said by email. "As we are talking about an older population, this risk is not small at all". Dr Chen said: "We don't have a reason for more than 70% of the increased risk".

It led the scientists to conclude that a loss of smell could be a sign of general unidentified poor health.

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