Can you smell a toast burning? How about that rose flower under your nose? Or the smell of a rotten food? Just as it is normal to have decreased hearing or fading vision as you grow old, a lot of people lose the ability to perceive odors.

In fact, approximately 25% of adults (53 years and above) have a decreased sense of smell, more so, the percentage increases to over 60 percent in people who are over 80 years old.

An Early Sign

A reduced sense of smell affects the appetite: People who are unable to smell or savor their food do not eat enough and they suffer from nutritional deficiencies and weight loss. Furthermore, a decreased sense of smell is also an early pointer to a chronic health problem.

In 2016, a Mayo Clinic study which was published in JAMA Neurology indicates that about 1,430 healthy women and men between the ages of 70 and 80 years were given a Smell Identification Test (SIT) identification test. The participants were reexamined after 3 years and 6months. After the examination, 250 of the healthy participants acquired MCI – Mild Cognitive Impairment, which is an indication of Alzheimer’s.


While the performance on the test got worse, the likelihood of memory loss also increased. The researchers divided the scores into 4 equal quarters and found out that the older subjects in the 2nd quarter had a 12% increased risk of memory loss compared to the percentage in the 1st quarter. The figure increased to 95% in the 3rd quarter, which increased further in the last quarter.

Loss of Smell Associated with Markers for Alzheimer’s

During a McGill study, researchers engaged 274 people within 59 and 65 years of age. Each subject had siblings or parents with Alzheimer’s.

The researchers gave them a SIT – Smell Identification Test – at the University of Pennsylvania, which had 4 booklets containing 10 odorized strips (scratch and sniff) in each.

The participants were asked to choose between 4 choices that describe the odor listed on each strip. The different smells (about 40) ranges from cinnamon and banana to motor oil, bubble gum, and root beer. Additionally, 101 of the subjects provided cerebrospinal fluid, which was examined for Alzheimer’s-related beta-amyloid and tau proteins, which are located in the brain and the lumbar region.

The main finding of the analysis indicated that while the subjects showed a reduced capability in discerning the odors, the Alzheimer’s pathology present in the subject’s spinal fluid increased.

Surprise Findings

In a recent research carried out on people between the ages of 57 and 85, those who lost their ability to perceive odor are likely to die within 5 years compared to subjects with a good sense of smell. The probability of dying was extremely higher for participants diagnosed with heart failure, lung disease, or cancer.

The study did not discover the link between loss of smell and early deaths, but being prone to neurodegenerative diseases is another factor. For instance, people who develop Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease will notice a decreased sense of smell before they experience any neurological symptoms.

Test Yourself

Research conducted in the 1970s, scientist revealed that the loss of smell is related to various neurodegenerative conditions. After some years, additional research indicated that it is an early symptom of the Alzheimer’s disease.

Some years ago, Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum said that there is a test where an individual determines the distance or point he can smell peanut butter. To carry out the test, close your right nostril, place the peanut butter at about ten or twelve inches from your nostrils. Next, move the peanut butter closer to your nose and take note of when you can smell the peanut butter.

Some will smell it at approximately 8 inches away. However, you can use a ruler to measure the distance you first perceived the peanut butter. Repeat the same process for the right nostril.

For People with the Alzheimer’s disease, it is basically 4 inches closer to the nostrils, which is half the distance.

Yes, you may feel your smelling ability is fine, however, some testing might prove you wrong. In the aforementioned study, some people who thought their sense of smell was great didn’t actually have a good one. However, the people who felt they had a smell problem actually did well during the smell tests.

How to test your sense of smell

  • The alcohol test

Place a packet of alcohol-swab close to your stomach. Open the alcohol-swab, if you have a good sense of smell, you will definitely discern the odor. If not, raise the packet until you are able to smell it. You can carry out the same smell test with a strong-scented item. If you can only smell the item when it is close to your nostrils, then you have a bad sense of smell.

  • Compare yourself to others

If you can’t smell what others can smell in your homes such as brownies, nasty refrigerator smell, or barbeque), then you have a bad sense of smell.

Get help

If you have a decreased sense of smell, get examined by a neurologist or an otolaryngologist. He or she can ascertain if it is caused by aging or another health condition.

This is what you can do…

Up to this point, a decreased sense of smell cannot be fixed or restored. However, this can help…

  • Practice smelling

German scientists suggest that you can enhance your smell abilities if you smell more. Devote few minutes each day by sniffing different scents—perfumes, spices, aromatic foods, and so much more. Although this method is not proven yet, nonetheless, it might be beneficial to some people.

  • Healthy diet

Eat Diet which offers the basic micronutrients that will stimulate regeneration and help slow down the aging process of the olfactory system.

  • The use of Nootropics

Nootropics are compounds that help enhance cognitive functions like critical thinking, abstract learning, ability to focus, and short-term memory. Nootropics such as Noopept, Phenylpiracetam, and Adrafinil have shown outstanding brain-boosting capabilities. They have a mentally-stimulating outcome which enhances memory retention, overall perception, focus, and may also boost your sense of smell.

If you have lost your sense of smell, do not panic. It might be due to a common cold, which lasts for few months. Other causes include hay fever, sinus infections, and nasal polyps.

You may also like: