Our mail carrier handed me a small box. As he walked away, I thought, “Wow, his cologne still lingers. Must be strong stuff.” Then I opened the box: A small bottle of patchouli oil. Even though securely closed, the scent was almost over-powering.
I bring the bottle to my husband. “Do you like this scent,” I ask, holding the bottle under his noise.
Sniff. Sniff. Sniff. “Nothing,” he responds. What?
Is This Another “ADHD Thing”?
This wasn’t the first time when my husband could not share my appreciation of luscious scents. Consider my gardenia plant covered with blossoms. (See photo above, appropriately decorated with a goat; my nickname for my husband is “Dr. Goat” or, more casually, “Goat.”)
“I must have blown out my olfactory receptors in the lab,” he concludes. This refers to his time spent studying to become a biologist, dealing with various chemicals during bench experiments.
That cannot be true. He absolutely detects some fragrances. Including some delicate ones. Plus, he is super quick to pick up any annoying aromas, including scented laundry detergent and fabric softener, chemical deodorizers or cleaners, cologne, and the like. We share an aversion to those, and there are none in the house.
It’s very strange, his erratic sense of smell. Perhaps it is contextual. Perhaps it’s related to his energy level, how close his stimulant medication is to wearing off, or his flat-out “interest” in detecting the odor.
For years, I left it at that.
I certainly did not share with him articles such as this: Do You Have a Poor Sense of Smell? Congrats, You Are A Psychopath. It reports on a study from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, in which scientists make their case linking psychopathic personality disorder to impaired “olfactory processing.” The paper is titled Olfactory Abilities and Psychopathy: Higher Psychopathy Scores Are Associated with Poorer Odor Discrimination and Identification.
Enter the Zinc Test
Still, one question nagged: Could a zinc deficiency explain his erratic sense of smell? No, he seemed to lack other signs of a zinc deficiency. And, we eat a fairly zinc-rich diet (pumpkin and sunflower seeds, some red meat, etc.) Still, I was intrigued by a do-it-yourself zinc test, purchased the liquid zinc assay. He agreed to an experiment.
It’s simple. You take in a teaspoon of the liquid. If you’re zinc-deficient, you’ll taste very little; it might even taste like water. If you’re not zinc deficient, it will taste unpleasant. My husband grimaced immediately, which apparently means he’s not zinc deficient. (Yes, I did a “blind” control – a spoon of plain water.)
I found one published review paper on this zinc test: The Accuracy of the Zinc Test Method. There were some positive findings, but researchers caution that the test cannot be considered definitive. Moreover, zinc deficiency surely cannot explain all cases of hypogeusia (a reduced ability to smell).
Then I Noticed: He’s Not Focusing
A fresh gardenia bud blossomed. I plucked the velvety flower and carried it inside. “Check it out,” I said, holding the gardenia near his nose.
But this time I more closely observed the manner in which he attempted to take in its scent: SniffSniffSniff. That’s when I realized: He’s not focusing on smelling! He’s focusing on sniffing.
I tried his method. SniffSniffSniff. Also nothing. Try it yourself. If you just make sniffing actions, in rapid succession, you really can’t smell much.
I shared this stroke of insight with him and then said: “Okay, now close your eyes, take a deep bre…”
My husband always erupts into irrepressible chortles when I make that particular suggestion. It reminds us of our ridiculously futile efforts, pre-ADHD diagnosis at various workshops, to help him to “calm down.”
I change tactics. “Okay, just sit back relax and leisurely take in the scent.” He did.
“Oh, that’s lovely.” he said. Eureka!
ADHD: A Constant Source of Discovery
After almost 20 years of studying ADHD, I still learn something new every day:
- Reading a book or published paper
- Playing Sherlock Holmes at home
- Listening to a lecture or the stories told in my CHADD Silicon Valley Adult ADHD group
- Reading posts from the online discussion group that I moderate for the partners of adults with ADHD
I never fail to hit upon some small understanding that adds to the larger picture of comprehension.
Who knew that we must “focus” on smelling a flower? Even if a micro-focus, it’s still focus. For me, it gives entirely new meaning to the phrase “Stop—and smell the roses, er, gardenias.”