Olfactory Dysfunction in Older Adults is Associated with Feelings of Depression and Loneliness

Chem Senses. 2016 May;41(4):293-9. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjv088. Epub 2016 Jan 24.


Olfactory dysfunction is a common complaint among physician visits. Olfactory loss affects quality of life and impairs function and activities of daily living. The purpose of our study was to assess the degree of odor identification associated with mental health. Olfactory function was measured using the brief smell identification test. Depressive symptoms were measured by the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale. Loneliness was assessed by the de Jong-Gierveld Loneliness Scale. Cognition was measured by a battery of 19 cognitive tests. The frequency of olfactory dysfunction in our study was ~40%. Older subjects had worse olfactory performance, as previously found. More loneliness was associated with worse odor identification. Similarly, symptoms of depression were associated with worse olfaction (among men). Although better global cognitive function was strongly associated with better odor identification, after controlling for multiple factors, the associations with depression and loneliness were unchanged. Clinicians should assess these mental health conditions when treating older patients who present with olfactory deficits.

Keywords: cognition; demographics; demography; depression; loneliness; olfaction; retirement communities; retirement homes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Demography
  • Depression / complications*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Logistic Models
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Olfaction Disorders / complications*
  • Olfaction Disorders / pathology*
  • Risk Factors