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Invited Commentary
October 22, 2020

The Specter of Olfactory Impairment: Lessons About Mortality in Older US Adults

Author Affiliations
  • 1Section of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, Department of Surgery, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2021;147(1):56-57. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2020.3745

In this issue of JAMA Otolaryngology, Choi et al1 identify olfactory impairment as having a strong association with 5-year mortality in older US adults, confirming prior work in other population studies from the United States and abroad. Using data from the 2013-2014 National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, they investigated the association of olfactory function at baseline, assessed with a validated 8-item odor identification test, with subsequent mortality information obtained via linkage to the National Death Index. As found in the Memory and Aging Project,2 each error on the objective smell test was associated with increased risk of death in analyses that adjusted for demographics, comorbidities, pertinent olfactory history (facial trauma/persistent cold or flu, ≥2 sinus infections, or head injury), cognition, and depression. These results support the emerging concept that the evolutionarily conserved special sense of olfaction is closely connected to health and aging.

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