Losing sense of smell can signal Alzheimer’s disease

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Our sense of smell does much more than help us enjoy the aroma of our favorite dishes or warn us of dangers like smoke. Interestingly, it might also give us early clues about the health of our brain.

At the University of Chicago Medicine, researchers have discovered that a decrease in how well someone can smell things over time could indicate problems with their brain health, specifically pointing to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Their findings, shared in the journal “Alzheimer’s & Dementia,” show that simple smell tests could potentially help spot these brain issues earlier than other methods currently in use.

Alzheimer’s disease affects over 6 million Americans and involves not just memory loss, but also changes in mood and difficulty with daily tasks. Recognizing these problems early on can be crucial for managing the disease effectively.

This study looked at data from a large project called the Memory and Aging Project, which tracks older adults to learn more about chronic diseases and brain health.

Participants were regularly tested on their ability to identify different smells, their memory, and thinking skills, and checked for signs of dementia.

What the researchers found was quite significant: those who experienced a quicker drop in their smell-sensing ability, even while their thinking skills seemed normal, were more likely to show signs of Alzheimer’s later on.

This included having less gray matter in certain parts of the brain, which are crucial for memory and smell, showing poorer cognitive function, and having a higher risk of developing dementia.

The researchers noted that the risk linked to losing one’s sense of smell was comparable to the risk associated with carrying a specific gene known to increase Alzheimer’s risk, the APOE-e4 gene.

Further research is planned to confirm these findings and to explore how examining brain tissues and using smell tests might help detect Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia earlier.

The researchers also want to include a wider variety of participants to see if these findings hold true across different groups.

The study has highlighted the importance of the sense of smell not only in our daily lives but as a potential key indicator of our brain health as we age.

Previous studies by the same team had already shown that older adults who lose their sense of smell completely are at a much higher risk of dying within five years compared to those with heart failure, lung disease, or cancer.

Such research underscores the potential of smell tests not only in diagnosing diseases like Alzheimer’s early but also in understanding the overall health risks associated with sensory loss as we age.

This could lead to new ways to manage, treat, or even prevent serious health issues before they fully develop.

This study is a reminder of how interconnected our bodily senses are with our overall health, especially brain health, and could lead to breakthroughs in how we approach the diagnosis and management of diseases that affect millions of people around the world.

If you care about Alzheimer’s, please read studies about Vitamin D deficiency linked to Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, and Oral cannabis extract may help reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about Vitamin B9 deficiency linked to higher dementia risk, and results showing flavonoid-rich foods could improve survival in Parkinson’s disease.

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