Does Olfactory Training Improve Brain Function and Cognition? A Systematic Review

Neuropsychol Rev. 2024 Mar;34(1):155-191. doi: 10.1007/s11065-022-09573-0. Epub 2023 Feb 2.


Olfactory training (OT), or smell training,consists of repeated exposure to odorants over time with the intended neuroplastic effect of improving or remediating olfactory functioning. Declines in olfaction parallel declines in cognition in various pathological conditions and aging. Research suggests a dynamic neural connection exists between olfaction and cognition. Thus, if OT can improve olfaction, could OT also improve cognition and support brain function? To answer this question, we conducted a systematic review of the literature to determine whether there is evidence that OT translates to improved cognition or altered brain morphology and connectivity that supports cognition. Across three databases (MEDLINE, Scopus, & Embase), 18 articles were identified in this systematic review. Overall, the reviewed studies provided emerging evidence that OT is associated with improved global cognition, and in particular, verbal fluency and verbal learning/memory. OT is also associated with increases in the volume/size of olfactory-related brain regions, including the olfactory bulb and hippocampus, and altered functional connectivity. Interestingly, these positive effects were not limited to patients with smell loss (i.e., hyposmia & anosmia) but normosmic (i.e., normal ability to smell) participants benefitted as well. Implications for practice and research are provided.

Keywords: Aroma; Neuroplasticity; Odorant; Olfaction; Olfactory bulb; Smell training.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain*
  • Cognition*
  • Humans
  • Olfaction Disorders / therapy
  • Olfactory Training*
  • Smell