Sense of Smell: Biggest Predictor of Alzheimer ’s Disease

By Amy Taylor on December 06, 2016

Many people think that memory loss is the primary and most common sign of Alzheimer’s disease. But new research suggests it may not be. Rather, it could be ‘poor sense of smell’. In fact, this symptom can be detected a decade before patients start becoming forgetful.

This is not the first time that scientists looked at sense of smell as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. ’There is increasing evidence that the neurodegeneration behind Alzheimer’s disease starts at least 10 years before the onset of memory symptoms,’ said Dr Mark Albers of Massachusetts General Hospital Neurology Department, lead author of the research.

The study involved 183 patient at MGH, and were deemed at risk of Alzheimer’s after undergoing genetic imaging and memory tests. But unlike previous similar investigations which involved olfactory testing methods had a number of limitations, the researchers of this study developed a four-pronged non-invasive test.

The test is designed measure older patients’ ability to recognize, remember and distinguish between odours.

Findings revealed that those with early signs of the disease were far less likely to be able to identify or easily recall smells.

In one experiment, the participants were tested for how well they could identify smells. They were presented with 10 scents: menthol, clove, leather, strawberry, lilac, pineapple, smoke, soap, grape or lemon. After smelling each one for two seconds, they were asked whether the scent was familiar. They then had to pick the name of the scent from a choice of four.

Next, they were tested on their awareness of scents, and their memory of scents. They were given a 20-point questionnaire asking about the scents they just smelled. Finally, they are tested on how well they can discriminate between smells, given a choice of two and asked if they are the same or different. 

Taking into account the large variation in sense of smell between healthy people, the researchers were still able to correctly identify those whose brain scans showed hallmark signals of Alzheimer’s - such as amyloid plaque build-up - simply based on their sense of smell.

The research team is currently setting up a large-scale study to validate their results. Dr Albers said that if the results hold up, this sort of inexpensive, non-invasive screening could help us identify the best candidates for novel therapies to prevent the development of symptoms of this tragic disease.’

Source of this article:

Why sense of SMELL is the biggest tell-tale factor for Alzheimer’s - and could be spotted 10 YEARS before memory loss symptoms

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