Worsening Sense of Smell Could Mean Cognitive Decline

If you’re getting older and your sense of smell isn’t what it used to be, a new study suggests that it could be a sign of declining cognitive abilities. The study suggests that people with a worsening sense of smell also had a growing risk of cognitive decline.

Researchers followed 1,430 elderly adults for three-and-a-half years. Their findings, published in JAMA Neurology, suggests that as a person’s olfactory sense declines, their cognitive abilities also worsen. Among study participants, 250 were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, and the 64 people with the worst cognitive issues eventually progressed to severe types of dementia, like Alzheimer’s disease. Those who had the biggest losses in their sense of smell were more than twice as likely to be among the impaired group.

Other Factors Likely Play In

While the study results indicate that there may be an important link between the ability to smell and the risk of cognitive problems as a person ages; other problems can impair the olfactory sense without being linked to cognitive declines. For example, allergies, nasal disease and head trauma are also risk factors for hurting the sense of smell. The study screened out people with alcoholism and Parkinson’s disease, since those two issues are linked to problems with the ability to smell. They didn’t exclude people with other risk factors for a poor sense of smell.

The jury is still out on the exact causes of dementia, but researchers are finding more clues. In addition to a potential link to the sense of smell, genetics appear to play an important role. Other possible causes include suffering a serious head injury earlier in life or having a lower educational level, which means the possibility of decreased mental and activity and neuron stimulation. Heart disease and long-term high blood pressure may also boost your risk.

Possible Prevention Methods

While there’s no know way to reliably prevent Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, getting regular exercise and eating a heart healthy diet may help. If you have high blood pressure, work with your doctor on a plan to control it. Doing mental exercises may also ward off cognitive deterioration.

You don’t have to panic if you’re getting older and notice that your sense of smell is declining. However, if it’s coupled with symptoms like confusion, forgetfulness, a chance in personality, poor judgement, and language problems, talk to your doctor about a screening. While dementia isn’t curable, treatments can slow it’s progress, especially if it’s caught early.