A reader wants to know why an insurance company might seek information on how well he smells. The diagram shows a typical adult human olfactory nerve. (Illustration: Wikimedia Commons)

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Answer Man: I recently read a privacy statement I suspect no one else reads. I was paying my home insurance bill. I'm one of the few people who actually goes to the insurance agency to make payments. I discovered that I gave the insurance company the right to gain “olfactory” info on me. I don't know why they would need information about my sense of smell or how they would get it. Can you find out? ­­

— Rick Matz, of Springfield

Of course I can, Rick, I have a nose for news, after all, as you can see from this old photo.

A photo of columnist Steve Pokin from years ago, when his sense of smell was at its peak. (Submitted by Steve Pokin)

It seems like the question is: What's the connection between homeowner's insurance and one's ability to smell?

Are you a greater insurance risk if you can't smell a fire in the attached garage?

Or if you can't smell a gas leak?

Or are you a threat to the stability of the neighborhood if you can't smell the dead possum under your porch?

In researching this topic (I read two stories), I have a theory.

First, I think the privacy statement is boilerplate.

I believe that acquiring information about one's sense of smell is more of a life-insurance matter.

Rick Matz of Springfield has a nosey question for the Answer Man. (Photo submitted by Rick Matz)

I learned a few things in writing this column. I did not know, for example, that the loss of one's sense of smell can be an indication of the onset of diabetes, or be the result of a severe concussion. In addition, it can indicate the onset of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.

According to a Dec. 14, 2023 online story on WHYY-FM, a public radio station in Philadelphia, “People who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease report loss of smell up to 10 years before their diagnosis and before physical symptoms manifest.”

The same story states: “90 percent of people that have early-stage Parkinson's disease have demonstrated smell loss, but only around 20 to 25 percent are aware of it.”

Your body odor doesn't matter

That's why some health advocates want doctors to give patients a smell test at their annual physical. To be clear: the doctor does not sniff the patient in this smell test.

Olfactory tests can take up to 12 minutes and often are not reimbursed by private health insurance or Medicare.

Regarding your question, Rick, on how an insurer would acquire information on your sense of smell — well, the insurer could require you to take a test.

No test, no insurance coverage.

I've read that such a test might involve an instrument called the “olfactometer.”

So, while we're on the topic, Rick, how is your sense of smell?

“About that same as it's always been,” he tells me.

This is Answer Man column No. 74.


Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Hauxeda. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@hauxeda.com. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin