62% of Americans over age 53 have anosmia (no sense of smell) or hyposmia (a diminished sense of smell). They can't always taste what they're eating, which can be dangerous in cases of food poisoning. They also can't smell smoke or leaking gas. This can be genetic or caused by viruses, chemical exposure, head injuries, nasal polyps, neurological diseases or Alzheimer's. Claire Murphy has found that the loss of smell among seniors is "much larger than previously appreciated," at almost 14 million. Men are much more likely to suffer from this than females, but researchers don't know why.
Karl Wuensch remembers when he first realized he couldn?t smell anything. "I was at the kitchen table, just eating some food," he says. "My wife came in and grabbed her nose and gagged and said, ?That's rotten!"' He adds, "I burned up a couple toasters without ever knowing it."
He finds that "either people don't believe you, or they make fun of you." He?s started a support group for anosmics and says, "If you ask young mothers what they miss most, it's the smell of their babies or their children's hair. For men, it's the smell of their lovers."
Dr. Robert Henkin?s clinic in Washington, D.C. treats between 500 and 1,000 patients each month. He says, "A man just came in who was so depressed he wanted to commit suicide."
Marla Litz is one of his patients who?s had problems ever since her sinus surgery a year ago. "You don't realize how much of our lives revolve around smelling and eating,? she says. ?Oh, do you smell that?' ?Oh, that tastes so good!? I don't want to socialize as much, because I just don't get as much enjoyment out of it."
"We had a sad case recently," says Beverly Cowart of the Monell-Jefferson clinic. "A husband and wife both lost their sense of smell as a result of toxin exposure in their perfume shop. They were both totally out of work." Her research shows that some patients can regain their sense of smell, "although it's difficult to predict who. Relatively little is known about the frequency of recovery, or the time it takes." Two-thirds of patients who lose their sense of smell due to a viral infection recover at least partially after two years.
Wuensch?s anosmia was caused by nasal polyps. After 10 years, he found that yearly steroid injections and a daily steroid nasal spray restored his sense of smell. He says, "Once I got my sense of smell back, I realized what I had lost."
Smells bring back memories more clearly than any other sense, and there are certain unmistakable smells associated with alien abduction and UFO experiences.
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