Dementia Sniff Test -People 5 Years Ahead of Appearance Of Symptoms

A simple sniff test has now been devised by researchers at the University of Chicago to which can detect dementia up to six years prior to noticeable symptoms. A long-term study of nearly 3,000 older adults aged 57 to 85 has found that losing the ability to smell peppermint, fish, orange, rose and leather could be an accurate early warning sign of dementia.

The team led by Jayant M. Pinto, a professor of surgery at the University of Chicago in Illinois found that participants who could not identify at least 4 out of 5 odors in the simple smell test were twice as likely to have dementia 5 years later.

These results show that the sense of smell is closely connected with brain function and health,” says Prof. Pinto. He explains that losing one’s sense of smell is a strong indicator of “significant damage,” and that this “simple smell test could provide a quick and inexpensive way to identify those who are already at high risk.”

Previous research has shown that tangles—twisted fibers of a protein that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s—can be found in the olfactory system and that

dementia is linked to a decrease in this sense.

In the study, people sniffed five different odors: peppermint, fish, orange, rose and leather. These were taken from a larger test used to evaluate sense of smell. In a five-year follow up, people who couldn’t physically detect even one of the scents all had dementia. Almost 80 percent of those who only detected one or two scents had also been diagnosed with the disease.

Dementia is not one disease, but a collective term for several diseases that affect the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, but other types include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal disorders. It is quite common for people to have more than one type.

The number of people worldwide with dementia is growing. Currently, around 47 million people are thought to be living with the disease. This number is likely to approach 75 million by 2030 and 132 million by 2050.

Of all human senses, smell is the most undervalued and underappreciated – until it’s gone. Our test simply marks someone for closer attention. Much more work would need to be done to make it a clinical test. But it could help find people who are at risk. Then we could enrol them in early-stage prevention trials.

These results show that the sense of smell is closely connected with brain function and health,” Professor Pinto said. “We think smell ability specifically, but also sensory function more broadly, may be an important early sign, marking people at greater risk for dementia. We need to understand the underlying mechanisms so we can understand neurodegenerative disease and hopefully develop new treatments and preventative interventions.

Of course, an inability to smell these objects doesn’t automatically diagnose dementia – it’s simply a risk factor. Dementia has been shown to be somewhat preventable, with manipulations in diet and exercise mitigating disease risk.

Disha Padmanabha
In search of the perfect burger. Serial eater. In her spare time, practises her "Vader Voice". Passionate about dance. Real Weird.