The impact of olfactory dysfunction on social and mental health

Our sense of smell enriches our lives—from enhancing pleasures (e.g. aroma of coffee) to signalling danger (e.g. smoke). Loss of smell is related to a range of social and emotional impairments, including elevated rates of depression, social isolation, and relationship difficulties. The COVID-19 pandemic causes transient smell loss, providing a novel opportunity to study one of our least understood senses. My first aim is to examine pathways linking olfactory loss to social and emotional impairments. I will recruit a prospective cohort of adults with recent onset of olfactory dysfunction and no flu-like symptoms (N=300) as well as a control cohort (N=100). Participants will be assessed over eight weeks, covering the typical period for olfactory recovery in COVID-19 patients. This data will provide a first-ever look at how within-person changes in olfaction relate to changes in social and emotional wellbeing. My second aim is to develop a brief, behavioral intervention by conducting a randomized trial focused on the benefit to participants from an online intervention. After refinement, this intervention will be offered freely, and findings will inform efforts to improve mental health for people with olfactory dysfunctions.