A Simple Smell Test Can Help Reveal Signs of Unhealthy Aging and Frailty

BALTIMORE— A simple smell test could help doctors spot signs of frailty and unhealthy aging in older people. Johns Hopkins researchers have shown that loss of sense of smell may be predictive of a higher risk of age-related health problems.

So far, studies have shown that smell dysfunction acts as an early indicator of cognitive decline, but these findings expand that concept and show that the link to frailty lies in both the brain and the nose. . For this study, the researchers assessed olfactory sensitivity and olfactory identification, which describe the ability to detect an odor and the ability to detect and name an odor, respectively.

“We use our sense of smell to identify the threat of fire or to appreciate the scent of flowers on a spring day. But just like vision and hearing, this sense weakens with age,” says corresponding author Nicholas Rowan, MD, associate professor of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery, in a university statement. “We found that impaired olfactory identification and sensitivity functions are associated with frailty, which is interesting because it shows that it’s not just your aging brain working here, but it could also be something device, like something in your nose that is able to predict our impending frailty and death.

Better smelling skills linked to better overall health

Rowan and the team analyzed data from 1,160 older adults enrolled in the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project between 2015 and 2016. Study participants were exposed to five scents to measure identification skills and to six scents to measure sensitivity. The team then compared these results to their fragility score.

They determined that for every one-point increase in olfactory identification and sensitivity scores, frailty status decreased significantly, suggesting that the ability to smell well is linked to better overall health in the population. aging. The team can infer that keeping an eye on smell may serve as an influential biomarker and risk factor for frailty.

Rowan believes this work contributes to increasing evidence for the use of smell testing as an integral part of clinical care for aging people at risk of cognitive impairment.

“We already perform tests to assess our ability to see or hear, and it is just as easy to perform a simple smell test that only takes a few minutes, which could potentially be used as a valuable tool to assess the risk of frailty or unhealthy aging,” says Rowan. “For example, if someone misses a smell test, then maybe that patient needs to improve their nutrition or have a more detailed neurological or medical workup.”

Hopkins’ team is already studying the use of smell tests and how they can improve clinical and research efforts to improve care for the elderly, especially with COVID-19 affecting the smell of many patients in the world.

The conclusions are published in the Journal of Gerontology.

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