Loss of smell hazardous, researchers say

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Age-related changes to sense of smell can put elderly individuals at a higher risk for accidental interactions with dangerous chemicals and poor nutrition, according to a new study.

Researchers led by University of Colorado's Diego Restrepo, Ph.D., studied 440 subjects divided into two groups. Half were over 60 and half were 45 or younger. They biopsied cells from people in both groups to determine differences in olfactory sensory neurons.

“We found clear changes in olfactory sensory neuron responses to odors for those 60 and up. When we presented two different odors to the olfactory sensory neurons of younger people, they responded to one or the other,” Restrepo said. “The sensory neurons from the elderly responded to both. This would make it harder for the elderly to differentiate between them.”

Because the sense of smell and the sense of taste are so closely related, researchers say this puts seniors at a higher risk for malnutrition. Additionally, seniors have a harder time detecting hazards such as spoiled foods, gas leaks and other toxic vapors, according to the study.

Full findings appear in Neurobiology of Aging.
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