Developing Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia in old age is one of the biggest concerns for ageing Kiwis, and, as with most conditions, early detection is the key to more effective treatment. But is a diminishing memory really the first symptom of the disease?
Earlier this year, we reported on a study by Washington University which identified navigational issues as the first sign of Alzheimer’s. However, according to a new study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, a declining sense of smell is what we should be looking out for. Dr Mark Albers and his colleagues developed a method which uses a person’s ability to recognise and remember scents in order to assess their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
In the study, 183 patients were tested on their ability to identify and distinguish between ten common smells, including leather, strawberry, smoke, and soap. Using only this information, as well as questionnaires testing awareness and memory of scents, the researchers were able to identify the patients whose brain scans showed signs of Alzheimer’s.
“There is increasing evidence that the neurodegeneration behind Alzheimer’s disease starts at least 10 years before the onset of memory symptoms,” Dr Albers told The Independent.
“It is well recognised that early diagnosis and intervention are likely to produce the most effective therapeutic strategy for Alzheimer’s disease – preventing the onset or the progression of symptoms,” he added. “If these results hold up, this sort of inexpensive, non-invasive screening could help us identify the best candidates for novel therapies to prevent the development of symptoms of this tragic disease.”