Olfactory Performance in a Large Sample of Early-Blind and Late-Blind Individuals

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Previous examinations of olfactory sensitivity in blind people have produced contradictory findings. Thus, whether visual impairment is associated with increased olfactory abilities is unclear. In the present investigation, I aimed to resolve the existing questions via a relatively large-scale study comprising early-blind (N = 43), and late-blind (N = 41) and sighted (N = 84) individuals matched in terms of gender and age. To compare the results with those of previous studies, I combined data from a free odor identification test, extensive psychophysical testing (Sniffin’ Sticks test), and self-assessed olfactory performance. The analyses revealed no significant effects of sight on olfactory threshold, odor discrimination, cued identification, or free identification scores; neither was the performance of the early-blind and late-blind participants significantly different. Additionally, the self-assessed olfactory abilities of the blind people were no different than those of the sighted people. These results suggest that sensory compensation in visually impaired is not pronounced with regards to olfactory abilities as measured by standardized smell tests.

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