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"Smell Test" Could Sniff Out Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease

An estimated 60,000 Oregonians have Alzheimer's disease. (pixabay)
An estimated 60,000 Oregonians have Alzheimer's disease. (pixabay)
July 27, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. — Researchers at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Canada could get a whiff of future tests to detect early signs of the disease. A study presented this week showed those in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease are less capable of identifying odors than those who are not.

Dr. Jeffrey Kaye with the Oregon Health & Science University said memory and sense of smell are closely linked.

"It may be that there's an association by just happening to be nearby,” Kayne said. “Or it may be more intrinsic, that there's something about the olfactory nerve cells that makes them more susceptible."

In one study, researchers found that those who showed signs of dementia scored lower on a smell identification test than they had four years before. In some cases, these changes were seen even before areas of the brain began to show significant signs of atrophy in scans.

Kaye warned that a smell test alone can't be used to determine if a person has Alzheimer's disease. However, he said, the test is cheap and easier to administer than a brain scan, and could be used alongside other tests for people who are worried about memory loss or a genetic predisposition to the disease. Kaye observed that there's much more interest in the disease today than when he started.

"I've been in this field for over 25 years, and it is truly remarkable the changes that have happened,” he said. "And it's important because it is a public health problem that we're going to be facing, with the growth in numbers of people who are affected by dementia."

An estimated 60,000 Oregonians and more than 5 million people nationally have Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. The national number is expected to increase to 16 million by 2050.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR