African-Americans may lose sense of smell at earlier age

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It happens to most of us: Our sense of smell decreases as we grow older.

But, a new study has found that black folks have a much greater decline in their sense of smell than their white counterparts. Though it sounds like a minor thing, it can lead to serious consequences. Olfactory loss often leads to poor nutrition. Worse: It also may be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s and could even lead to an early death.

The study, from the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, found that as they aged, African-Americans and Hispanics suffered similar deficits to their sense of smell. For Hispanics, social and cultural factors (disparities in education and income and health-related cognitive problems) accounted for the sensory loss. But for African-Americans, premature presbyosmia (the formal name for age-related declines in the ability to smell) couldn’t be explained solely by social, environmental or medical factors.

“We have long known that men begin to lose their sense of smell some years sooner than women, but this is the first study to point to racial or ethnic differences,” said study author Jayant Pinto, M.D., associate professor of surgery at the University of Chicago. “What surprised us was the magnitude of the difference. The racial disparity was almost twice as large as the well-documented difference between men and women.”

According to the National Institute on Aging, many people live long lives with only minor age-related declines in the ability to smell, but about 24 percent of Americans 55 and older have a measurable problem with their sense of smell. That number increases to about 30 percent for those ages 70 to 80, and to more than 60 percent after age 80.

Click here to read the rest of the researchers’ findings.