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J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1996 Mar;51(2):M86-91.

Longitudinal changes in smell identification.

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University of Michigan School of Dentistry, Ann Arbor, 48109-1078, USA.



Cross-sectional studies have demonstrated that olfactory function diminishes with increasing age, which may impact on the safety and quality of life of older persons. To date, however, there have been no published longitudinal studies on olfaction. The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of age and gender on smell identification over a 3-year period in a group of generally healthy men and women.


Males (n = 85) and females (n = 76) between the ages of 19 and 95 years were administered the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (SIT) over a 3-year span as part of the oral physiology component of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. A linear mixed-effects regression model was used to determine how longitudinal changes in SIT scores differ with respect to gender, history of medical problems, and use of prescription medications.


Over the 3-year period, SIT scores diminished progressively with increased age. Women and men in the eighth decade of life experienced a decline of greater than one SIT point per year. Females consistently performed better than males in smell identification. Similar results were obtained regardless of medical problems or medication usage.


These results extend the conclusions of previous cross-sectional olfactory studies and indicate that smell identification deteriorates progressively with greater age. Furthermore, age-related declines in olfaction occur even in the absence of overt medical problems.

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