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Anosmia Awareness Day – Living without a sense of smell

Anosmia Awareness Day is a day to spread awareness about Anosmia – the loss of the sense of smell, which takes place each year on February 27th.

Perhaps since there are relatively fewer visible and practical difficulties associated with olfactory disorders than with visual or auditory impairments, the nature of olfactory dysfunction and its consequences for an individual’s safety and quality of life are not widely understood.

Anosmia Awareness Day aims to expose this situation, push for the development of successful treatments, and inform the general public about the serious impact that Anosmia can have on a person’s life. As one of the senses listed in our 6 Senses of Inclusive Play, which we feel should all be engaged in a fully inclusive design, we thought we would explore what it might mean to be without this sense. 

We can actually get a look at this first hand as our Business Manager Jo Talbot was born without a sense of smell and can explain what her life is like without it.

“Studies show that 75% of emotions are triggered by smell which is linked to pleasure, well-being, emotion and memory. I have never experienced this. Sometimes I feel sad about it as I can’t relate to scents people rave about; coffee, flowers, babies, perfume. I don’t really know what I am missing though as I have never had this sense. I also clean a lot as I can’t tell if food is off or something smells bad – the only way around that is to clean before it has a chance to smell!

I think my visual senses are heightened to compensate however. I have a photographic memory and I am extremely good with faces. My earliest memory is aged two, the day my sister was born – I can recall that day very clearly in my mind’s eye. Life is very optical for me; I love art and photography. Memories are words, feelings and visual snapshots, not smells (sometimes I think this can be a good thing though!).

My work with Inclusive Play has shown me how for people who are deaf/blind the sense of smell plays a key role for identifying people, places, objects and activities. It would have a huge impact for them if this sense was also lost.”

While life might be slightly gloomier but not severely compromised without the ability to smell beautiful things, Anosmia sufferers have been shown to be susceptible to dangerous situations such as gas leaks, fires, hazardous chemical vapours, and ingesting spoiled food.  Additionally, people with smell loss can also experience difficulty with eating due to the close relationship between smell and taste; this contributes to our enjoyment of life by stimulating a desire to eat which not only nourishes our bodies, but also enhances our social activities.

Jo confirms “I have set fire to my house twice; once I was in the room and didn’t realise what was happening. My partner came running and burst into the kitchen to sort it out saying he had smelled the ‘acrid burning’ from upstairs. I had no idea as I had my back to it. I have to double and triple check I have put candles out properly and of course the gas hob. Fire alarms are an absolute must for us Anosmics.”

She continues, “With regards to food, luckily I can taste ok although perhaps not be able to distinguish very subtle flavours. I was an incredibly fussy eater as a child – I wouldn’t try anything if it didn’t look nice. I had to teach myself as an adult to get over that”

@FifthSenseUK , a UK-based charity that provides support and information to people with smell and taste disorders, has connected Anosmia Awareness Day to its international online awareness and fundraising campaign called #LongLostSmell