A story is all over the Web: 39% of older people who could not smell well died within five years. Those who could smell adequately died at a 19% rate. Those who could smell well died at a rate of 10%.
As soon as I read that, I knew the report did not pass the smell test.
Why would government researchers conduct a test involving 3,005 people over a five-year period, just to test people’s sense of smell? The story did not make sense.
So, I searched Google for this: National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project. There were lots of hits. None of them mentioned the smell test.
The federal government published a summary article. The first paragraph got to the point:
THIS special issue is designed to bring an innovative longitudinal study on one of the least explored areas of aging to the notice of the research community and to encourage its use beyond the original team of investigators. The 2005–2006 National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP) is a national probability survey of 3,005 men and women between the ages of 57 and 85 years that is focused on intimate social relationships, including marriage, family, social ties, and sexuality.
A sex study! There is always lots of government money available for a sex study. The fact that the federal government would spend millions of dollars on a sex study makes perfect sense. Millions of dollars to study whether geezers are still getting any, and what it all means for the — ahem — body politic. This is what government does to taxpayers all the time.
Yet the only finding of this boondoggle that hit the media was the smell test.
I got to thinking: Why did researchers include a smell test in a sex study? There must be some pretty weird things going on out there.
The researchers did hit public relations pay dirt. It is a headline-grabber. “If you can smell the roses, they won’t be bringing you any.”
But what about sex and longevity? Is there good news on that front . . . or really bad news? Millions of men want to know. Will it be this? “You want to help keep me alive a little longer?” Or this? “You’ll be glad to know I’ve bought more life insurance.” Sadly, no press release has hit the media. The findings are apparently inclusive. That’s the kind of government study that we have come to expect. We know the drill. “More research is needed.”
In short, wake up and smell the boondoggle. If you can, you may live longer.