Speed Reads

smell ya later?

Study: A smell test could predict a person's lifespan

A new study suggests that evaluating a person's sense of smell later in life could predict how likely they are to still be living five years later.

Researchers from the University of Chicago asked 3,000 adults between the ages of 57 and 85 to smell and identify peppermint, fish, orange, leather, and rose scents encased on felt tip pens. They found that 39 percent of the people with the poorest sense of smell (meaning they made four or five mistakes) were dead within five years, compared to 19 percent of those with moderate smell loss and 10 percent who correctly named the scents.

Even after looking at issues like age, poverty, nutrition, smoking habits, and overall health, researchers say those with the worst sense of smell were still at the greatest risk. "We think loss of the sense of smell is like the canary in the coal mine," Prof. Jayant Pinto, the study's lead scientist, told the BBC. "It doesn't directly cause death, but it is a harbinger, an early warning system that shows damage may have been done. Our findings could provide a useful clinical test, a quick inexpensive way to identify patients most at risk."

Researchers are not sure why there appears to be a link between poor sense of smell and lifespan, but it could mean a person has less regeneration of cells in their body, or perhaps a lifetime of exposure to pollution finally have caught up with them. Although losing your sense of smell does not meet imminent death, it could be an early warning sign of something serious, and researchers suggest that people who experience long-lasting changes in their sense of smell see a doctor.