Parkinson's and smell

Dr Clara O'Brien is a Consultant Neuropsychologist. She explains how loss of smell can affect people with Parkinson’s and how you can manage the symptom.

Loss or reduction of smell (anosmia) is common in Parkinson’s, with up to 95% of people experiencing it to some degree. It can be one of the earliest symptoms, and people often report experiencing loss of smell before they even have any difficulties with movement.

There is debate about why people with Parkinson’s experience it, but recent research has found that the part of the brain that processes smell – the ‘olfactory bulb’ – was smaller in a group of people with Parkinson’s.

Loss of smell can affect people in different ways. We rely on our sense of smell to taste food, so reduced smell can lead to weight loss or weight gain.

It can also affect your mood, relationships and overall quality of life. In addition, loss of smell can affect your safety. For example, being unable to smell food burning. It does not respond to Parkinson’s medication, so is unlikely to get better even with this treatment.

Loss of smell is something of a ‘hidden’ symptom, so talking to others and making them aware can help them to understand how you are affected. If your mood is affected, do talk to your GP about accessing treatment for this.

Image of Dr Clara O'Brien

Dr Clara O'Brien's tips

  • Eat a balanced diet and be careful about your portion sizes. Seek some nutritional advice if this is a problem for you.
  • Try not to overdo the seasoning or spices. Be aware that you may not be able to taste this no matter how much you use and it may affect other peoples’ enjoyment of the food.
  • Be careful when cooking. Make sure to check your food at regular intervals to ensure that it's not burning. You can set alarms to help you remember to do this.
  • Make sure that your smoke alarms are fully operational at all times.

Barrie's story

Barrie shares how losing his sense of smell was one of the first Parkinson’s symptoms he experienced. Read Barrie's story.