By Jennifer B Buckley
Researchers and medical professionals have long been trying to identify symptoms in people that can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, but they have met with little success. Alzheimer’s affects 12 million people worldwide, progressively taking their memories and cognitive abilities, until they eventually die from the disease. In a recent study conducted at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, researchers found a connection between smell recognition and Alzheimer’s disease. Patients with mild memory loss who had difficulty identifying common smells in a simple scratch-and-sniff test, but thought their sense of smell was intact, were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease within the next few years.
The study was presented in the September issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. In the study, 90 people with minor memory problems and an average age of 67 were asked to participate in the 20-minute scratch-and-sniff test. The subjects were exposed to a number of different smells including: peanut butter, menthol and soap. All forty scents were fairly distinct and recognizable. The odors were embedded on a microcapsule and placed on their own different piece of paper. The patients were then asked to scratch open the capsule and smell the scent. They were given four choices to the nature of the smell. The choices were extremely dissimilar and would be considered easy to distinguish between for a healthy nose.
After following the patients for an average of 20 months, researchers found that 30 individuals, who scored well on the smell test, did not develop Alzheimer’s disease. However, they found 19 of the 47 people who had difficulty with the test did develop Alzheimer’s disease. Also, 16 of the 19 patients thought they had a good sense of smell when they took the test. There are another 13 people who have not completed the follow-up examination.
Although loosing one’s sense of smell and taste can be a natural part of aging, people in the 60’s and 70’s should be able to distinguish the different scents. Elderly people usually experience a dulling of their senses but not a complete senses annihilation.
Caregivers are not being asked to administer this test at home or misdiagnose their loved-one with Alzheimer’s disease. More studies are needed to legitimize the test. Seek a care professional’s opinion if you suspect your care recipient shows signs of the illness.