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Sense of smell may predict Alzheimer's risk

23/11/2016

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New research published in the journal Annals of Neurology suggests an individual's sense of smell could be useful in determining whether they are likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

Principal investigator Dr. Mark Albers, of the Department of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and team found that by assessing the ability to recognize, recall, and distinguish different odors, they could accurately identify individuals who were at greater risk of Alzheimer's disease.

As with any illness, the earlier Alzheimer's is detected, the greater the chance of treatment success. However, at present, Alzheimer's can only be identified through a series of medical and cognitive assessments, and it can often take years to receive a clinical diagnosis.

According to Dr. Albers and colleagues, it is known that Alzheimer's disease can negatively impact the brain circuits that control sense of smell, or olfaction, and studies have suggested that such neurodegeneration can arise more than a decade before the onset of memory problems.

With this in mind, the researchers set out to investigate whether testing a person's sense of smell could be an effective way to predict Alzheimer's disease.

A person's sense of smell could be an effective way to predict Alzheimer's disease. Photo: Internet

Dr. Albers and team included 183 older adults in their study, all of whom were part of ongoing studies taking place at the Massachusetts Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, based at MGH.

All participants had undergone in-depth medical and neurological assessments, as well as brain imaging to pinpoint features associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Using the four tests, the researchers found they could accurately distinguish between each of the four groups of study participants.

What is more, the researchers found they could differentiate between participants with normal cognitive functioning and those with Alzheimer's using POEM scores, with lower scores associated with greater cognitive decline.

The team notes that in adults with normal cognitive functioning, the ability to recognize and distinguish scents can vary widely.

While these results need to be validated in a larger group, the team believes these early findings suggest testing an individual's sense of smell may be useful for earlier detection of Alzheimer's disease.

Source: Medical News Today.

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