Having a poor sense of smell in later life may have negative implications for a woman’s social life, a new study suggests.

[A lonely older woman]Share on Pinterest
A reduced sense of smell may harm a woman’s social life, new research suggests.

Researchers found that older women who performed poorly on an odor identification test had less active social lives, compared with women who performed well on the odor test.

Senior study author Johan Lundström, Ph.D., of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, PA, and colleagues recently published their results in the journal Scientific Reports.

As we age, our senses decline. According to a study cited by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), almost a quarter of women and around 11 percent of men aged between 60 and 69 report problems with their sense of smell.

Previous studies have associated a decline in sense of smell with increased risk of certain neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

For their study, Lundström and colleagues set out to determine whether a loss of sense of smell in later life might influence social behavior. “You hear anecdotal accounts from women who have lost their sense of smell about having fewer friends than they had previously,” notes Lundström.

To reach their findings, the researchers analyzed data from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSLHP), including a sample of 3,005 men and women from the United States aged between 57 and 85.

As part of the NSLHP, participants were required to complete an odor identification test. Information on participants’ social lives was also gathered.

Compared with older women who performed well on the odor identification test, those who performed poorly were found to have fewer friends and close relatives, and they also socialized less frequently.

The team found no link between sense of smell and social lives in older men.

The study results remained after accounting for a number of possible confounding factors, including participants’ education level, smoking status, and physical and mental health problems.

Based on their findings, the researchers suggest that older women experiencing a decline in their sense of smell may want to think about maintaining their social life in order to improve their health and well-being.

Furthermore, the team says that the findings indicate that such women may benefit from smell training.

This intriguing sex difference could suggest that smell training, which has been shown to improve a reduced sense of smell in both men and women, may have an additional beneficial function in older women by helping to restore both the sense of smell and, by extension, social well-being.”

Johan Lundström, Ph.D.

Further research is needed to determine the mechanisms that underlie the link between sense of smell and social life, say the authors. Future studies should also investigate whether a decline in sense of smell affects the social lives of younger women.

Learn how being socially active may increase well-being in later life.