Failing sense of smell could be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease starting to set in, a study says. Research conducted at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester in Minnesota shows that aging adults with a poorer sense of smell were more likely to suffer from amnestic mild cognitive impairment as well as a progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Lead researcher Rosebud Roberts who is a professor of neurology at Mayo Clinic, explained that the study’s findings suggest that doing a smell test on elderly patients with normal mental capacities could help identify which of these patients are likely to develop memory problems or who may already be progressing into Alzheimer’s disease.
Research conducted on a group of elderly people with an average age of 79 years showed that subjects who had the worst smell test scores were 2.2 times more likely to develop mild memory problems. In cases of patients that already had slight memory problems, those with the worst smell test results were more likely to progress into Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers involved in the study are trying to encourage physicians to recognize and use the smell test as a possible screening tool which could be used in trying to diagnose elderly patients with memory impairment problems.
The study, which was published this month in JAMA Neurology, collected data form up to 1400 mentally normal adults with an average age on 79 years old and found that, on an average of 3.5 years of follow-up, 250 people started showing signs or mild cognitive impairment. The follow-up also found that from the 221 people with the most serious memory issues, 64 people later developed full-blown dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers used a smell test comprised of 12 different scents, out of which six were food-related and six were nonfood-related. They tested the participants by using scents of soap, gasoline, turpentine, paint thinner, smoke and rose as well as banana, lemon, onion, pineapple, cinnamon and chocolate.
The risk of increasingly problematic memory impairments was higher when participants were unable to identify the smells. However, the study didn’t manage to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the two, so scientists were unable to prove their findings beyond a doubt as no clear link was found between thinking problems that were associated with mild cognitive impairment and a person’s decreased sense of smell.
However researchers say that the study could indicate that there may be a connection between a decreased sense of smell and neurodegenerative diseases in general.
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