Olfactory perception in blind and visually impaired people: do blind people develop superior smell ability?

Dorota Majchrzak, Julia Eberhard

It is known that blind people are better than sighted people at orientating themselves by sound, but it is not clear whether this enhanced awareness extends to other senses. Do blind people develop superior abilities in olfactory perception to compensate for their lack of vision?We investigated the smell skills of blind and visually impaired individuals aged 7-89 (n=99; 52 women, 47 men) and compared them with the subjects of control group aged 8-82 years (n=100; 45 woman, 55 men) without any impairment of their sense of sight. The participants were evaluated by Sniffin’ Sticks odor identification- and –discrimination test from Burghart Company. Identification skills were assessed for 16 common odors presented in felt-tip pens. In the odor discrimination task subjects had to determine which of three pens in 16 triplets smelled differently.The results of odor identification test showed relevant differences (p<0.05) between the blind or visually impaired subjects and the participants of the control group in odorants: cinnamon, banana, licorice, turpentine and coffee. The sighted people were better than the blind. Regarding the remaining 11 Sniffin´ Sticks, no significant differences were found. The mean of the correctly identified odorants pens in both groups was the same, 13 of the offered 16.In the discrimination test normal sighted subjects discriminated correctly 12 and the blind or visually impaired 11 of the 16 offered Sniffin’ Sticks triplets, on the average. The difference was not statistically significant.The gender did not influence the identification and discrimination ability of the participants. Age related changes were observed apart from the subjects group. The olfactory perception decreased after the age of 51. In our investigation we didn’t confirm that blind and visually impaired people were better in smell identification and discrimination skills than sighted individuals.

Department für Ernährungswissenschaften
ÖFOS 2012
303009 Ernährungswissenschaften
Link zum Portal