There have been numerous studies on the subject of aging-related decline in sight and hearing, but the relationship between aging and the sense of smell is comparatively under-explored. Now, a new study suggests that the acuity of a person's sense of smell may be able to predict their longevity, with better smellers benefiting from a much lower mortality rate than people whose noses are less able to distinguish between smells.
Researchers from the University of Chicago recruited about 3,000 participants between the ages of 57 and 85 for a five-year study conducted in two waves. The participants were asked to identify five recognizable smells: leather, orange, fish, rose and peppermint.
At the end of five years, 430 of the participants had died. Among them were 39 percent of those who had failed the initial smelling test, as compared to only 19 percent of those who had moderate loss of smell and 10 percent of those with no smell loss. This indicates that the loss of one's sense of smell may be one of the early signs of potentially fatal health decline.
"We think loss of the sense of smell is like the canary in the coalmine. It doesn't directly cause death, but it's a harbinger, an early warning, that something has gone badly wrong, that damage has been done," lead author Jayant Pinto of the University of Chicago said in a statement. "Our findings could provide a useful clinical test, a quick and inexpensive way to identify patients most at risk."
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