It’s not news exactly, we’ve known this for some time. Your sense of smell can measure the health of your brain. It makes sense becaus smell is so deeply embedded in the most primitive parts of your mind, that for something to go wrong there, shows there is something wrong in those most basic parts, which especially includes the memory.
Whereas other senses do most of their activity in their respective cortices, or info-processing areas of the brain, like the visual cortex, smell has no cortex. It is “processed” by the limbic system itself, and the limbic system, named for its control of the limbs and thus motility, is really at the base of our neural schematic. You could lose your Broca or Wernicke areas of your brain, the parts that deal with speaking and decoding language, and your life would take a hit, sure – but if you lost a part of your limbic system, you probably wouldn’t have much of a life at all. (Although there are plenty of exceptions to this rule.)
My friend’s mom recently told me about how she’s getting phantom smells – smelling stuff when it’s not there. This could be caused by all kinds of things, really, but as she is approaching 70 years old, I told her to take that as a reminder to check her mental health. I think her olfactory phantoms (Ren and Stimpy called them “nose goblins,” just kidding) have since subsided, but it’s a story of caution to anyone getting to that age, or those with parents etc. who are.
Let’s make sure not to confuse this: people with anosmia, or the inability to smell, do not automatically have mental illness. It’s when people with functioning olfactory systems suddenly get changes to them that there should be concern (and especially when they’re 60 or older).
And finally, I always thought, what does this mean for me, a guy self-diagnosed with pseudo hyperosmia? I think I have a strong sense of smell, although it’s measurably the same as other people, I pay attention to it more, and it does weird things to my brain, not gonna lie. For example, freshly baked bread, spoiled mushrooms, and rotten fish are all related as smells, they really are, says science, but also my nose-brain told me. Problem is, sometimes I can’t tell if I’m really smelling something, or if I’m just going crazy (because I often smell things others can’t, which is sometimes called hallucinating, and which is a prime ingredient for feeling crazy). You better believe I’m getting one of these tests in 20 years.
CTV News, July 2016