Could training our noses to recognize smells boost our memory and lower the risk of dementia?
That’s exactly what Dr. Alex Bahar-Fuchs and his team from Deakin University’s School of Psychology are trying to find out.
They are building on recent research that suggests improving our ability to remember smells could enhance brain function in the areas where other memories are stored.
Many older people experience problems with their sense of smell, known as the olfactory sense. Sometimes, these difficulties can indicate a decrease in cognitive abilities, such as memory and attention.
According to Dr. Bahar-Fuchs, “A very early sign of dementia due to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease is a decline in people’s sense of smell, which is often present years before the onset of other symptoms.”
The regions of our brain that process smells are among the first to be affected by conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Besides lowering our quality of life, losing our ability to smell can put us at risk as it becomes more difficult to identify danger signs like gas leaks or smoke.
If we can train our brains to remember smells better, it could potentially benefit both aspects.
The Mind Your Nose Study: Olfactory vs. Visual Memory Training
To investigate this further, Dr. Bahar-Fuchs and his team are carrying out the “Mind Your Nose Study.”
The study compares the effects of an Olfactory Memory Training program (OMT), which uses smells, with a Visual Memory Training program (VMT).
The researchers are focusing on older adults who’ve noticed changes in their memory and thinking, which is sometimes referred to as ‘subjective cognitive decline.’
“There is some evidence that training one’s memory for smells improves memory more broadly, whereas training one’s visual memory only improves memory for visual information,” explains Dr. Bahar-Fuchs.
The study, currently recruiting participants over 65 living in Melbourne, Australia, will assign participants randomly to either smell-based memory training or visual-based memory training.
Participants will complete their assigned training every day for four weeks at home. The study also includes three assessments to measure cognition and sense of smell.
The Potential Impact on Dementia Prevention
So far, it’s been challenging to show that training memory and thinking in one area can lead to improvements in another.
However, this research could break new ground in this area and potentially have significant implications for preventing dementia.
“If we can improve our memory for smells, it has the potential to benefit both conditions,” says Dr. Bahar-Fuchs.
The study is a hopeful step towards a world where simple, daily exercises can keep our minds sharper for longer and help ward off debilitating conditions like dementia.
If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and this old drug could help treat dementia.
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