Transitions between Mild Cognitive Impairment, Dementia, and Mortality: The Importance of Olfaction
J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. Jamie E Knight et al.
Background: Existing literature suggests that impaired olfaction may be an early marker for cognitive decline. Tracking the earliest stages of the progression to dementia is paramount, and yet the importance of olfactory ability throughout cognitive states and death remains unclear.
Methods: Drawing data from the Rush Memory and Aging Project (N=1501; 74% female), olfactory ability was assessed using the Brief Smell Identification Test (range=0-16), while cognitive states (unimpaired, mild cognitive impairment [MCI], and dementia) were determined using a three-step neuropsychological diagnostic protocol at up to 15 annual occasions. Multi-state survival models simultaneously estimated the association of olfactory ability on transitions through cognitive states and death, while multinomial regression models estimated cognitively unimpaired and total life expectancies.
Results: Higher olfactory scores were associated with a reduced risk of transitioning from unimpaired cognition to MCI (HR=0.86, 95%CI 0.82-0.88) and from MCI to dementia (HR=0.89, 0.86-0.93), indicating that one-unit increase in olfactory scores were associated with an approximate 14% and 11% reduction in risk, respectively. Additionally, higher olfactory scores were associated with a greater likelihood of transitioning backward from MCI to unimpaired cognition (HR=1.07, 1.02-1.12). Furthermore, higher baseline olfactory scores were associated with more years of longevity without cognitive impairment. However, olfaction was not associated with the transition to death when accounting for transitions through cognitive states.
Conclusions: Findings suggest that higher olfactory identification scores are associated with a decreased risk of transitioning to impaired cognitive states and that associations between olfaction and mortality may occur primarily through the pathway of neurodegeneration.