Poor sense of smell may predict risk of death in older adults

In the journals

Published: August, 2019

Previous studies have shown a link between loss of smell among older adults and risk of death within a short period — often five years or less. Now, a report published online May 21, 2019, by Annals of Internal Medicine confirmed this increased risk of death over more than a decade, as well as identifying the leading causes of death.

Researchers gave smell identification tests to 2,289 adults ages 71 to 82 (about half of whom were men). They found that those who scored low on the smell test had a 46% higher risk of dying within 10 years, and 30% within 13 years, compared with those who had a stronger sense of smell.

Specifically, poor smell was linked to deaths from cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Other research has suggested that poor sense of smell is a possible early symptom for dementia, but this study suggests it also could be a sign for underlying health issues related to heart disease.

The researchers could not explain the association of poor sense of smell with higher mortality. Interestingly, people who reported good to excellent health at the beginning but scored low on the smell test still had a higher-than-expected risk of death. The researchers added that you should speak with your doctor if you suspect your sense of smell has noticeably weakened.

Image: © Thomas Voss/Getty Images

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.