It’s a fact of life: As we age, our senses become duller. Diminished eyesight and hearing are common woes of aging, but did you know that our sense of smell also declines over time? New findings from a University of Chicago study suggest that many African Americans and Latinos lose their odor detecting abilities quicker and more drastically compared with those of other races, reports.

For the study, the university’s National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP) assessed the abilities of 3,005 elderly people from all demographics to identify five common odors. The scents included peppermint, fish, orange, rose and leather.

Research results revealed that an individual’s performance on smell identification tests declined as the person aged. What’s more, scientists found that non-white participants were unable to correctly identify odors and scored, on average, 47 percent lower on the tests than their Caucasian counterparts.

Medical records also showed that African Americans and Latinos typically began losing their sense of smell (a condition called presbyosmia) almost 10 years earlier than Caucasians, usually between ages 50 and 60.

“What surprised us was the magnitude of the difference,” said Jayant Pinto, MD, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Chicago. “The racial disparity was almost twice as large as the well-documented difference between men and women.” (Women’s odor identifying abilities are proved to be markedly better than men’s, equivalent to being five years younger, according to scientists.)

Researchers warned that presbyosmia could have detrimental effects on a person’s well-being. For example, it’s difficult for people to maintain personal hygiene, identify spoiled foods or detect odors that signal danger (such as a gas leak or smoke) if their sense of smell is compromised. In fact, follow-up interviews with study participants showed that the people who had the worst sense of smell were three times more likely to have died five years after researchers initiated the study than those with normal olfactory abilities.

Researchers weren’t sure what caused these disparities, but they pegged genetic variation, life factors and exposure to nerve-damaging substances in the environment as possibilities.

Did you know bad breath may actually be a signal of underlying illness such as diabetes, liver or kidney failure, or chronic lung disease? Click here to read more.