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A Poor Sense of Smell Could Be a Warning Sign for Dementia

Various cut flowers, detailVarious cut flowers, detail
shades of pink and light purpleJonathan Knowles Getty Images

Having a poor sense of smell might be an early warning sign for dementia. A new study found that those with a lower-than-average sense of smell appeared to be at higher risk for dementia compared to those whose smelling abilities weren’t impaired, The New York Times reports.

The study, which was recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, looked at 2,906 men and women between the ages of 57 to 85. Amongst other tests at the beginning of the study, researchers asked all of the participants to complete a “smell test” and identify five odors: rose, fish, leather, peppermint, and orange.

After five years, 4.1% of the group had dementia. While researches looked at their sex, age, ethnicity, education, race, and medical history, the only factor connecting those that developed dementia were their cognitive ability at the start of the study and performance on the smell test.

The risk seems to increase the more smells participants had trouble identifying. While only 4% of the total group developed dementia, the study results seems to suggest that those that had trouble smelling were twice as likely to develop dementia than those that were able to identify all five smells, even if they tested within the normal range for cognitive ability at the beginning of the study.

It’s important to note, as the researchers are carefully to do, that a loss of smell doesn’t mean someone will get dementia. However, since sensory function is connected to brain function, a sensory decline should be met with a more detailed examination.