A group of researchers at the University of Chicago claim that people who routinely fail to recognize five common odors including peppermint may be at a higher risk of developing dementia.
The findings could enable scientists to come up with a cost-effective testing method. MRI scans – the most common detection methods – are not failproof and they can cost patients thousands of dollars, which is why the disease is detected only when it is too late.
Study authors claim their sniffing test can help detect the neurodegenerative condition with great accuracy and at minimum costs. Their study involved 3,000 people aged 57 to 85. The research team was curious to learn whether there is a link between loss of the sense of smell and Alzheimer’s disease risk.
Past studies found that dementia – the most severe form of Alzheimer’s – can affect the tangles in the human olfactory system, which may explain the changes in the sense of smell.
During the tests, people were asked to identify five common scents: rose, peppermint, leather, fish, and orange. After five years, most participants who failed to recognize at least one scent developed dementia. Around 80 percent of volunteers who identified only one or two smells had the condition.
Senior researcher Jayant Pinto thinks the discovery is critical because it highlights how the central nervous system can provide early signs to neurodegenerative conditions. Pinto added that the sense of smell is the most underrated human sense, and people usually appreciate it when it is no longer there.
Critics of the study deemed the findings “interesting” but they noted that the sample size is quite small. So, researchers should have stayed focused on who wouldn’t develop the condition. But the smell tests could be paired with other warning signs such as changes in vision and manner of walking.
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