Olfactory Function in Wave 2 of the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project

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OBJECTIVE: To investigate the sense of smell, including sensitivity and odor identification, and characterize the U.S. national prevalence of olfactory dysfunction in older adults, thereby facilitating further investigation of the substantial risks for older adults associated with this basic sensory ability. METHOD: The sense of smell was evaluated using the Olfactory Function Field Exam (OFFE), a measure designed specifically for field research, which assesses 3 components of olfaction: sensitivity to n-butanol (a standard testing odorant) and androstadienone (AND, a key social odor produced by humans), as well as the ability to identify odors. Respondents were randomly selected from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project Wave 2 sample to receive the OFFE (n = 2,304), and 2,212 consented to participate. RESULTS: In the U.S. population aged 62–90, n-butanol detection ability was significantly worse at older ages (ordinal logistic regression, p < .001); however, there was no difference in detection ability between genders (p = .60). AND detection ability was also significantly worse at older ages (p = .003), but in contrast to n-butanol, women outperformed men (p = .001). As expected, odor identification ability was worse in older people than in younger (p < .001), and women were more accurate than men (p = .001). DISCUSSION: We report for the first time 3 facets of olfactory function and its association with age and gender in a representative sample of U.S. older adults. Future analyses of these data are needed to elucidate the sense of smell’s role in physical, social, and mental health with aging.


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Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences

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Suppl. 2

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