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Age-related smelling loss significantly worse in African-Americans
Date:6/12/2013

dults, ages 57 to 85.

For this project, conducted from 2005 to 2006, survey teams from the National Opinion Research Center used a standard, well-validated test to assess the ability of 3,005 older participants to identify five common odors. The scents were presented one at a time. Subjects were asked to identify each smell from a set of four choices. The odors, in order of increasing difficulty, included peppermint, fish, orange, rose and leather.

Personal information about race and ethnicity was provided by the study subjects. The surveyors also assessed their physical and mental health, social and financial resources, education, and alcohol or substance abuse through questionnaires and careful observation.

The researchers found that:

  • Only half (49 percent) of those tested correctly identified five out of five odors; 78 percent got four or more right, 92 percent got at least three and 97 percent got two or more correct.
  • Performance declined steadily across the age groups; 64 percent of those age 57 identified all five, but that fell to 25 percent of those age 85.
  • Non-white subjects had consistently poorer performance, scoring 47 percent lower, equivalent to a nine-year increase in age.
  • The study confirmed previous reports that women perform better at this task, equivalent to being five years younger. This study extended that finding across the age range, 57-85.

Caucasian women typically begin to experience some loss of smelling acuity in their early 70s, Pinto said. Caucasian men start about five years earlier, in their late-60s. Black and Hispanic women start in their mid-60s. Non-white men start in their late-50s or early 60s. Because the changes occur gradually over several years, many older people do not notice the decline.

The cause of this disparity is not clear. Genetic variation may play a role, as could exposure to nerve-damaging substances in the environment, or both. "Race likel
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Contact: John Easton
john.easton@uchospitals.edu
773-795-5225
University of Chicago Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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