Weak sense of smell may be tied to dementia risk, study reports

A new study has found a strong link between a reduced sense of smell in older adults and dementia.
By Carmelo Sheppard | Oct 02, 2017
Losing your sense of smell with age could be an early sign of dementia, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

A few years ago, a team of scientists at the University of Chicago conducted a study where they used Sniffin' Sticks -- sticks infused with different scents -- to measure how well subjects could identify a range of smells. This showed how smell and health are related and revealed a strong link between olfactory damage and an increased risk of death within five years following the test.

In the recent study, the same team turned to the Sniffin' Sticks method again, this time to find a link between olfactory damage and dementia diagnosis. To do this, they surveyed 2,906 participants between the ages of 57 and 85 and asked them to identify five different scents: orange, peppermint, rose, fish, and leather.

Data showed that 78.1 percent of the subjects had a normal sense of smell. Nearly 49 percent correctly identified all five scents, and 29.4 percent accurately identified four out of five. However, they also found that 18.7 percent of subjects could only discern two or three of the five, 2.2 percent could only identify one, and 1 percent could not identify any.

After five years time, all of the participants who could not identify a single scent in the study had developed dementia, as did 80 percent of the subjects who could smell only one or two scents. This showed that older adults with olfactory dysfunction were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia within the next five years.

This research falls in line with previous studies and gives further evidence that the loss of olfactory sense could be a sign of cognitive decline. It also reinforces the importance of losing your sense of smell, a condition that has been linked to various diseases and mental problems.

"Being unable to smell is closely associated with depression as people don't get as much pleasure in life," said study co-author Jayant M. Pinto, a researcher from the University of Chicago, according to Tech Times.

While the results are strong, the team believes it could take time before they can put a clinical-use olfactory test into place. Even so, there is no doubt the new study could help shed more light on the topic and may well lead to better medical procedures in the future.

"Our test simply marks someone for closer attention," said lead author Jayant Pinto, a researcher from the University of Chicago, according to New York Daily News. "Much more work would need to be done to make it a clinical test. But it could help find people who are at risk. Then we could enroll them in early-stage prevention trials."

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