Study: Death likely within 5 years of loss of smell

Sense of smell test (NBC News)
Sense of smell test (NBC News)

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) – A new study finds there is a strong link between the loss of sense of smell and death.

Dr. Samuel Sprehe, ENT and allergist with the Memorial Medical Group, says it is normal to have some reduction in smell function, but a study called Olfactory Dysfunction Predicts 5-Year Mortality in Older Adults, published in the Public Library of Science, shows a five year mortality for older adults who totally lose their sense of smell.

“It’s about to happen and you’re about to have a meltdown over the next five years, you’re likely not going to be around,” said Dr. Sprehe.

The data shows 50 percent of those who lose their sense of smell will be dead in five years.

Dr. Sprehe says the olfactory system depends on stem cell turnover and when it loses function, it could be a warning sign for degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia, even certain viral illnesses.

“It appears to be a degeneration of the reparative function of stem cells within the central nervous system in the brain,” said Dr. Sprehe.

It can be difficult for a person to recognize he or she cannot smell as well as before.

“Mostly it’s family members that tell them, ‘Can’t you smell this? Don’t you smell this?  Did you know for instance that you had smoke in the kitchen?'” said Dr. Sprehe.

If you think you are losing your sense of smell, or have a family member who is, Dr. Sprehe says it needs to be checked out.

One of the most basic methods to detect a person’s strength of smell is through a pocket smell test.

Dr. Sprehe says there are a few reasons someone’s sense of smell could be weakening.

It could be an obstruction that can be repaired, a short-term illness, or it might be something bigger that requires an MRI.

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