Your sense of smell could predict how long you will live for

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New research suggests that smell loss could be a useful indicator into overall health in older adults. Study author Dr Nicholas Rowan said: “We already do tests to assess how well we can see or hear. It’s just as easy to conduct a simple smell test that takes only minutes, which could potentially be used as a valuable tool to assess the risk of frailty or unhealthy ageing.”

The associate professor of head and neck surgery from John Hopkins University elaborated.

“For example, if someone flunks a smell test then maybe this patient needs to improve their nutrition or undergo a more detailed neurological or medical work-up.”

The study built upon previous research that shows a drop in smelling ability is a common early indicator of brain-linked cognitive decline.

For this research project, the researchers collected data from 1,160 older adults.

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Participants were tested on their capability to detect and record five different odours during the study.

They were also given six scents to measure how well they could detect the presence of an odour.

These measures of smell are called olfactory sensitivity and olfactory identification.

The health of participants were also noted in terms of frailty – an age-related syndrome of physical decline.

Dr Rowan said: “We found that both impaired olfactory identification and sensitivity functions are associated with frailty.”

Noting the “interesting” finding, Dr Rowan elaborated: “It shows that it’s not just your ageing brain at work here.

“But it may also be something peripheral, like something at the level of your nose that is able to predict our impending frailty and death.”

Dr Rowan added: “The really interesting question, though, is what happens to these novel relationships when you seek to treat the smell loss.”

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Age UK says: “Frailty is generally characterised by issues like reduced muscle strength and fatigue.

“Around 10 percent of people aged over 65 live with frailty. This figure rises to between 25 percent and 50 percent for those aged over 85.”

In practice, being frail means that a relatively minor health problem, such as a urinary tract infection, could lead to long-term health issues.

Frail older adults are more at risk of malnutrition, dehydration, falls, and bladder issues.

NHS England stated: “Promoting healthy ageing offers a chance to avoid or postpone the onset of frailty.”

Healthy ageing involves moderating alcohol intake, remaining socially engaged, and not smoking.

Attending regular health check-ups and screenings can also identify the onset of disease that could be modified.

The study was published in the Journal of Gerontology.

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