On the nose: Olfactory disturbances in patients with transient epileptic amnesia

Epilepsy Behav. 2017 Jan;66:113-119. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2016.09.043. Epub 2016 Dec 28.


Objective: While olfactory hallucinations are relatively rare in epilepsy, a high prevalence (up to 42%) has been reported in one form - Transient Epileptic Amnesia (TEA). TEA is characterized by recurring amnestic seizures and is commonly associated with persistent interictal memory deficits. Despite reports of changes in smell, olfactory ability has not been objectively assessed in this group. The aim of this study was to measure olfactory ability in patients with TEA and explore whether olfactory symptoms relate to other clinical variables.

Methods: Fifty-five participants with TEA were recruited from The Impairment of Memory in Epilepsy project database. The presence of olfactory symptoms was obtained via case notes and clinical interview. Participants completed questionnaires to evaluate their olfaction and memory function subjectively. Olfactory ability was measured using the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT). TEA participants' performance was compared to 50 matched healthy control participants. A subset of TEA participants (n=26) also completed a battery of memory tests including standard neuropsychological measures, and assessment of accelerated long-term forgetting and autobiographical memory.

Results: Olfactory hallucinations were reported in 55% of patients with TEA. A significant reduction in smell identification (UPSIT) was found between patients with TEA and healthy controls (p<0.001). Epilepsy variables, including history of olfactory hallucinations, were not predictive of olfactory ability. Patients reported ongoing memory difficulties and performed below normative values on objective tests. While no correlation was found between objective measures of memory and olfactory performance, subjective complaints of route finding difficulty was associated with UPSIT score.

Conclusions: Impairments in odor identification are common in patients with TEA and exceed changes that occur in normal aging. Olfactory hallucinations occurs in approximately half of patients with TEA, but do not always coincide with reduced sense of smell. Olfactory impairment and interictal memory problems both occur frequently in TEA but are not closely associated.

Keywords: Epilepsy; Memory; Olfaction; Transient epileptic amnesia.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amnesia / complications
  • Amnesia / diagnosis*
  • Amnesia / psychology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Epilepsy / complications
  • Epilepsy / diagnosis*
  • Epilepsy / psychology
  • Female
  • Hallucinations / complications
  • Hallucinations / diagnosis*
  • Hallucinations / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Nose
  • Olfaction Disorders / complications
  • Olfaction Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Olfaction Disorders / psychology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Smell* / physiology