A poor sense of smell as you grow older may show you are in danger of an early death, researchers warn.
A study found that people in their 70s and early 80s who had trouble recognising common odours were almost 50 per cent more likely to die in the next ten years than those with sensitive noses.
Even those who were healthy at the beginning of the research had a higher death risk if their sense of smell was impaired, suggesting the problem may flag up deteriorating health years before more serious problems appear.
Scientists believe smell tests could one day become routine in GP surgeries. Some say a deteriorating sense of smell could reveal more about the state of your health than your age does.
Researcher Dr Honglei Chen, from Michigan State University, said: ‘Poor sense of smell becomes more common as people age, and there’s a link to a higher risk for death.’ The US team analysed the sense of smell among 2,300 people aged 71 to 82. Each was given 12 common odours to sniff, and for each smell had four options from which to identify it.
The participants were classified as having a good, moderate or poor sense of smell and tracked for the next 13 years. Those in the ‘poor’ category were 46 per cent more likely to have died within ten years than those having a good sense of smell. Poor sense of smell is known to be an early sign of Parkinson’s disease and dementia, and is linked to weight loss, the researchers write in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal.
But this explains only 28 per cent of the increased risk of death. Dr Chen said: ‘We don’t have a reason for more than 70 per cent of the increased risk. It tells us that, in older adults, impaired sense of smell has broader implications. Incorporating a sense of smell screening in routine doctor visits might be a good idea at some point.’
Professor Robert Howard, an expert in old age psychiatry at University College London, said: ‘Most of the increased mortality risk could not be explained by associations with specific illnesses. This raises the interesting possibility that loss of smell may be a marker of generalised ageing and should be taken seriously by older people and their doctors.’Daily Mail