Olfaction and Aging: A Mini-Review

Gerontology. 2015;61(6):485-90. doi: 10.1159/000381619. Epub 2015 May 9.


Decreased olfactory function is very common in the older population, being present in >50% of individuals aged between 65 and 80 years and in 62-80% of those >80 years of age. Smell dysfunction significantly influences physical well-being, quality of life, nutritional status as well as everyday safety and is associated with increased mortality. Multiple factors contribute to age-related olfactory sensory loss, including nasal engorgement, cumulative damage of the olfactory epithelium from environmental insults, a reduction in mucosal metabolizing enzymes, sensory loss of receptor cells to odorants, and changes in neurotransmitter and neuromodulator systems. In addition, structural and functional abnormalities of the olfactory epithelium, olfactory bulb, central olfactory cortex, and basic olfactory circuitry, which are related to the neuronal expression of aberrant proteins in these areas, may result in olfactory sensory impairment in aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Impaired odour identification is associated with a decrease in cognitive abilities and memory decline. A reduction in the sense of smell is considered to potentially represent an early and important warning of neurodegenerative disorders, particularly of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, and, in mild cognitive impairment, olfactory impairment may herald progression to dementia. Further investigations of the potential role of olfactory dysfunction in the early diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases are warranted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Humans
  • Olfaction Disorders / etiology*
  • Olfaction Disorders / pathology
  • Olfaction Disorders / physiopathology
  • Smell / physiology