Alzheimer’s: Can you smell that? The smelly factor doubling the risk of cognitive decline
Alzheimer's: Dr Chris discusses the early signs of condition
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An estimated 55 million people are living with dementia, only a quarter of whom have been diagnosed formally. The disease – characterised by a gradual onset of symptoms – has been studied in great depth, but no cure has yet been found. In their research, however, scientists have made leaps and bounds to establish the early signs of the disease. One line of research asserts that early clues may arise in the nose.
Growing evidence suggests a poor sense of smell may be linked to declining memory in later life.
Initial research stems from a 2016 study, published in the journal Annals of Neurology, which found that those who had trouble identifying scents like menthol, strawberry and lemon seemed to be at greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Doctor Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Centre, said: “When someone can’t distinguish between different smells, it may absolutely be a signal that Alzheimer’s disease is brewing.”
In similar research published in the American Geriatrics Society, researchers followed a sample of 3,000 older people with normal cognition.
READ MORE: Dementia cases are set ‘to almost triple by 2050’ if four risk factors are not addressed
All participants underwent a simple smell test to identify those at higher risk of dementia.
The team found that participants who could not identify four out of five smells were twice as likely to have dementia five years later.
What’s more, the degree of olfactory deficit correlated with the severity of dementia that occurred.
Findings revealed that 4.1 percent of participants went on to develop dementia within five years, 47 percent of whom had olfactory dysfunction at the initial evaluation.
Ear, nose and throat specialist Professor Pinto said: “These results show that the sense of smell is closely connected with brain function and health.”
He added that a loss of sense of smell could be indicative of “significant damage”.
The test could potentially provide a quick approach to identifying individuals at risk of the disease.
Alongside Alzheimer’s disease, poor sense of smell is also associated with higher rates of death, and Parkinson’s.
The reason for this association, however, remains unclear.
According to Harvard Health, however, a loss of smell could very well be an early indication that the disease is present.
Alternatively, it could be signalling that there’s an issue with part of the nervous system responsible for the sense of smell.
The health body states: “If you notice a major change in your sensation of smell, be sure to mention it to your doctor at your next visit.”
Although the study suggests losing one’s sense of smell could increase the risk of decline, other research yielded conflicting findings.
One analysis of 1,430 people found that 76 percent of those with anosmia had a normal cognitive function at the end of the study.
Alzheimer’s treatment Researchers have focussed much of their effort on developing a drug that slows the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.
To date, the drug Aducanumab is the first in 20 years to be approved in the US. Although the drug promises to slow mental deterioration, its usefulness is still widely disputed by scientists.
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