Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found a connection between loss of smell and early onset of memory problems, including Alzheimer’s disease. Older adults who performed worse on smell test were twice as likely to start having mild memory issues.
- Mayo Clinic researchers found loss of smell could be linked to memory problems
- Prof. Rosebud Roberts thinks smell tests could be a possible screening tool for Alzheimer’s onset
- 1,400 mentally normal adults were enrolled in the 3.5-year study
- The smell test included six food-related aromas and six nonfood-related scents
Senior researcher Rosebud Roberts, a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said that older patients who already presented memory problems at the beginning of the study were even more likely to develop full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Roberts added that, according to the study’s findings, smell tests could help identify the elderly people within normal mental parameters who are prone to progress into memory problems or Alzheimer’s dementia. Seeing that diagnosing the early onset of memory issues still presents difficulties, physicians could take smell tests into consideration as a possible screening tool.
Dr. Roberts’ theory is that first stages of dementia start affecting and deteriorating the parts the brain that distinguish odors. However, he added these findings cannot be applied on people who suffer from chronic respiratory tract conditions which cause difficulty with smell.
For the study, more than 1,400 mentally normal adults were enrolled, with an average age of 79 years old. Three years after the beginning of the research, 250 people developed mild cognitive impairment. Moreover, 64 of the 221 people who suffered of serious memory problems progressed into dementia.
According to the JAMA Neurology article, the smell test included six food-related aromas (chocolate, banana, lemon, cinnamon, onion and pineapple) and six nonfood-related scents (soap, gasoline, paint thinner, smoke, rose, and turpentine). The likelihood of aggravating memory problems increased proportionally with the inability to recognize smells.
However, in spite of finding an association between the two, Dr. Roberts said the evidence did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. And researchers reported that a decreased sense of smell could not be linked to other memory problems associated with mild cognitive impairment.
James Hendrix, the chief of global science initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association, said the study’s findings could indicate that smell could be linked to neurodegenerative diseases in general. Thus, he encouraged researchers to further investigate what could become an early sign that something is going wrong with someone’s brain.
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