A new study from the University of East Anglia reveals the huge range of emotional and practical impacts caused by a loss of smell.
It finds that almost every aspect of life is disrupted – from everyday concerns about personal hygiene to a loss of sexual intimacy and the break-down of personal relationships.
The researchers hope that their findings will help motivate clinicians to take smell problems more seriously, with better help and support offered to patients.
“There are many causes – from infections and injury to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and as a side effect of some medications.
“Most patients suffer a loss of flavour perception which can affect appetite and can be made even worse if distortions in their sense of smell also co-exist.
“Previous research has shown that people who have lost their sense of smell also report high rates of depression, anxiety, isolation and relationship difficulties.
“We wanted to find out more about how a loss of smell affects people.”
The researchers worked with the Smell and Taste clinic at the James Paget University Hospital, Gorleston-On-Sea. The clinic opened in 2010 and was the UK’s first clinic dedicated to taste and smell.
The study involved 71 participants aged between 31-80 who had written to the clinic about their experiences.
The research shows that sufferers experience wide-ranging impairments to their quality of life. These included a negative emotional impact, feelings of isolation, impaired relationships and daily functioning, impacts on physical health and the difficulty and financial burden of seeking help.
The inability to link smells to happy memories was also a problem. Bonfire night, Christmas smells, perfumes and people – all gone. Smells link us to people, places and emotional experiences. And people who have lost their sense of smell miss out on all those memories that smell can evoke.
“Many participants described a negative impact on relationships – ranging from not enjoying eating together to an impact on sexual relationships,” he added.