A simple sniff test may be a non-invasive way to find out whether people are developing Alzheimer’s disease.

A simple sniff test may be a non-invasive way to find out whether people are developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Problems identifying smells may predict Alzheimer’s: study

A new study out of McGill University suggests that testing someone’s ability to identify smells could reveal the presence of Alzheimer’s disease long before symptoms appear. This is important because early detection of dementia could eventually allow for early treatment to delay the onset of symptoms like memory loss. There is no such treatment yet but researchers are working hard to find one.

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The sense of smell and ability to identify them occurs in the same parts of the brain that are among the first affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
The sense of smell and ability to identify them occurs in the same parts of the brain that are among the first affected by Alzheimer’s disease. © David Duprey/AP Photo file/Oct. 7, 2003

Scratch-and-sniff tests administered

In this study, researchers worked with almost 300 people with an average age of 63 who had a parent who suffered from Alzheimer’s and so, are more at risk of developing it themselves. They were given different pieces of paper which they scratched to release the smell of substance like bubble gum, lemon or gasoline. Some of them agreed to lumbar punctures to measure the quantities of proteins associated with the disease that were in their spinal fluid.

The researchers found that those who had the most trouble identifying odours were those who had the most biological markers for Alzheimer’s. That suggests these scratch-and-sniff tests could present a non-invasive way to identify people who are in the early stages of developing dementia.

‘It’s crucially important’ to identify disease early, says doctor

“It’s crucially important to know it because we need to find a way to intervene in the process of brain changes before the onset of symptoms…with a hope that you can delay the onset of symptoms and by some substantial period of time,” says Dr. John Breitner, director of the Centre for Studies on Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease at McGill University.

He says that delaying onset by five years would reduce the burden on Alzheimer’s by 50 per cent in terms of things like the number of cases, economic losses, and losses of productivity.

People affected doubling every 15 years

Breitner notes that in Canada and around the world the number of people developing Alzheimer’s disease is doubling every 15 years and the number of people affected is expected to be four times what it is today by the year 2050.

This study was published in Science Daily.
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