The Rate of Age-Related Olfactory Decline Among the General Population of Older U.S. Adults

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BACKGROUND: Age-related olfactory loss (presbyosmia) is a prevalent sensory impairment with a large public health impact. In cross-sectional analyses, we found striking health disparities in olfactory function among older U.S. adults. Here, we report a 5-year follow-up to determine the magnitude of within-person olfactory decline. METHODS: The National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP) interviewed a probability sample of home-dwelling older U.S. adults (57–85 years) in 2005–2006 (Wave 1) and reinterviewed them in 2010–2011 (Wave 2), assessing demographics, social life, and health, including olfaction. Odor identification was measured with a 5-item version of the Sniffin’ Sticks (0–5 correct). Fourteen hundred and thirty-six respondents provided olfaction data in both waves. Multivariate linear and logistic regression were used to model the association between change in olfactory performance and demographic, health, and psychosocial factors. RESULTS: Odor identification declined most rapidly among older individuals (0.25 additional errors per 5 years for each decade of age, p < .001) and in men (0.17 additional errors per 5 years compared to women, p = .005). Among those with perfect scores in Wave 1, African Americans declined more rapidly than Whites (p = .04). Neither socioeconomic status, health conditions, cognition, mental health, alcohol use nor smoking was associated with change in olfaction (p > .05, all). CONCLUSIONS: The rate of olfactory decline increases with age and is greater among men than women despite adjusting for differences in psychosocial and health conditions, indicating physiologic factors as drivers. African Americans are more likely to experience initial olfactory decline, consistent with an earlier onset of aging among this subgroup.


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Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences

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