Researchers may have found a new way to detect dementia even before it affects the memory.
A study was recently conducted at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota over a 3.5 year period which involved more than 1,400 mentally healthy adults – each about 79 years of age. Each participant was given a test that involved smelling six food-related and six non-food related scents. The results showed that those with the decreasing ability to identify smells over time were more likely to experience Alzheimer’s and other memory problems.
During that time, 250 participants experienced mild cognitive impairment, while 64 people out of 221 with serious memory problems developed dementia.
The report that was published on November 16, 2016 in JAMA Neurology suggested that Alzheimer’s affects the part of the brain that distinguishes odors. As the disease evolves, it’s less and less likely that a person will be able to identify one smell from another.
“The findings suggest that doing a smell test may help identify elderly, mentally normal people who are likely to progress to develop memory problems or, if they have these problems, to progress to Alzheimer’s dementia,” said Rosebud Roberts, professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic.
Scientists say before now, it’s been less challenging to actually prevent treatable causes of dementia, but much more difficult to identify symptoms.
With the results of the study, experts believe olfactory neurons damaged by the disease, could signal the onset of Alzheimer’s. The olfactory bulb – a structure that determines smells and the entorhinal cortex – which helps us remember and name odors, are the first parts of the brain to be affected.
This research has been able to provide clear indicators that Alzheimer’s and the ability to identify smells are tied to biological markers that point to the progression of the disease.
Scientists also say the findings could be helpful as a tool for doctors to screen patients for dementia. While this is certainly promising news, Roberts warns that the findings do not apply to people who have had previous difficulty smelling because of chronic respiratory tract conditions.
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