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Smell test 'could identify early Alzheimer's'

Smell test 'could identify early Alzheimer's'
25th November 2015

A new smell test could be used to identify the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, research has suggested.

Losing the sense of smell is one of the common symptoms of the onset of the condition. A test carried out by US scientists has found elderly people who performed badly in a series of smell tests were more likely to show signs of memory loss over a three-and-a-half year period, thus putting them at greater risk of developing Alzheimer's.

The smell test involved asking participants, with an average age of 79, to identify six food-related and six non-food-related scents. 

Of the 1,400 people involved, 250 were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, and 64 of these were diagnosed with dementia.

Rosebud Roberts, lead researcher and neurology professor at Mayo Clinic, which carried out the research, stated: “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."

Loss of sense of smell is associated with Alzheimer's due to the fact that being able to smell something relies on the use of receptors in the brain. However, it should be noted that the research did not involve any assessment of participants' brains, which would be required to provide hard proof of the smell test's effectiveness.

In many people, losing the sense of smell occurs as a natural part of the ageing process and is not always a sign of Alzheimer's or dementia. However, this test could well prove an important means of identifying individuals who may be at early risk of the disease and, as such, is worthy of further investigation. 

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