If your nose isn't working as well as it used to, you're not alone. According to the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), as many as 14 million Americans over age 55 have trouble smelling and over 200,000 people visit doctors each year for smell and taste problems.
Smell disorders are nothing to turn up your nose at. Changes in the ability to smell and taste can be caused by a simple cold or upper respiratory infection, but they may also be among the first signs of neurologic disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis. Most of what we call flavor results from our sense of smell, so the pleasure of eating is lost for those who lose their olfactory sense--a condition called anosmia. Anosmia affects a person's ability to enjoy food and drink and may result in decreased appetite, weight loss, and too much added sugar and salt in the diet. In severe cases, anosmia can lead to depression. It an also interfere with personal safety, limiting the ability to notice smoke and potentially harmful chemicals and gases.
Before you quit reading and decide this column isn't for you, pause to consider some revealing statistics (reported in Brain Sense). Smell disorders may be more common than most people--even physicians--realize. A Swedish research team tested nearly 1,400 healthy adults. They found some smell dysfunction in 19 percent of them. The incidence of smell disorders is highest among older adults; and it increases with age. A five-year study of nearly 2,500 residents of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, ages 53 to 97, found some loss of the smell sense in one quarter of them. The prevalence increased with age, to the point where more than 60 percent of those ages 80 and older were impaired. Men were more likely than women to experience smell-sense loss, as were smokers and the victims of stroke, epilepsy, chronic nasal congestion, or upper respiratory tract infection. Less than 10 percent of those affected were aware of their sensory loss. (Could you be one of them?)
If you are one of the millions affected by a loss of smell (whether you know it or not), you may interested in a new book I found. It is Navigating Smell and Taste Disorders by Ronald DeVere, MD, Director of the Taste and Smell Disorders Clinic in Austin, Texas; and Marjorie Calvert, Food Consultant at the clinic. It is the first book in the American Academy of Neurology's new Neurology Now Books series, which is inspired by Neurology Now, the AAN's patient information magazine.
My favorite part of the book is the recipes (see the one for curried chicken salad here), but the book also offers excellent information on causes, treatment options, and ways to make food more appealing for anosmia sufferers. If you are plagued by a disorder of taste or smell, this book is a must-buy . . . or if you are just looking for some spicy recipes, it's worth considering too.
Statistics on Anosmia:
A. Brämerson, L. Johansson, L. Ek, S. Nordin, and M. Bende, "Prevalence of Olfactory Dysfunction: The Skövde Population-based Study," Laryngoscope (April 2004) 114(4):733-7.
C. Murphy, C. R. Schubert, K. J. Cruickshanks, B. E. Klein, R. Klein, and D. M. Nondahl, "Prevalence of Olfactory Impairment in Older Adults," Journal of the American Medical Association (November 13, 2002) 288 (18):2307-12.