EAST LANSING, Mich. (CBS Local) — Older people with a poor sense of smell could have nearly double the risk of dying in the coming decade compared with those with sharp noses, according to a new study by the National Institute on Aging.
“Poor sense of smell becomes more common as people age, and there’s a link to a higher risk for death,” said senior researcher Dr. Honglei Chen, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Michigan State University.
The study focused on nearly 2,300 men and women, aged 71 to 82 years old over a 13 year period. Participants were asked to identify 12 common odors and were then ranked based on how well they performed.
Regardless of the gender, it was determined that older adults with poor sense of smell were at a 46% higher risk for death within 10 years, and 30% at a higher risk for death within 13 years.
“We don’t have a reason for more than 70% of the increased risk. We need to find out what happened to these individuals,” Chen said.
Chen said poor sense of smell may be an early and sensitive sign for deteriorating health before it’s even recognized.
“It tells us that in older adults, impaired sense of smell has broader implications of health beyond what we have already known,” Chen said. “Incorporating a sense of smell screening in routine doctor visits might be a good idea at some point.”
Chen said the study is the first of it’s kind to look at potential reasons why poor sense of smell is linked to higher risks of death. He said his team plans to do more research.
Meantime, Chen suggested adults talk their doctor if they think they’re having trouble smelling.