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Is Losing Your Sense Of Smell A Sign Of Dementia

New Research Explores Connections Between Health And Sense Of Smell

Research finds losing sense of smell could be a sign of Dementia

A new study explores the relationship between loss of smell and future disease and attempts to explain it. Researchers tested the sense of smell of nearly 2,300 elderly people and monitored their health and cognitive function over 13 years. Compared with those who had good olfaction at the start of the study, those with the worst sense of smell

  • tended to smoke, drink more alcohol, be older, and be male
  • were more likely to have dementia, Parkinsons disease, and kidney disease at the start
  • had a 46% higher chance of death over 10 years
  • had a higher risk of death due to dementia, Parkinsons disease, and cardiovascular disease in the coming years.

Interestingly, sense of smell was a stronger predictor of death in those who were healthiest at the start of the study. The higher rates of neurologic disease only explained a small part of the higher rates of death among people with poor sense of smell.

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If You Can’t Smell This It Could Be An Early Sign Of Dementia Study Says

When most people think of the early signs of dementia, they think of those first instances of recognizable memory loss: missing a medical appointment, forgetting someone’s name, misplacing the car keysor even the car itself. Yet dementia has early symptoms that have nothing to do with memory, which could tip you off to a problem.

According to neuropsychiatrists at Amen Clinics, there are many subtle behavioral and medical changes you may notice before your short term memory starts to suffer, including experiencing certain food cravings, forming compulsive habits, engaging in risky behaviors without inhibition, and falling more frequently. On top of these, you may have a sudden difficulty smelling and distinguishing between certain scents. Read on to learn the simple, at-home test that could pinpoint a problem, and to find out which scents may signal a dementia diagnosis.

RELATED: If You Ask This a Lot, It Could Be an Early Sign of Dementia, Doctors Say.

Read Also: How To Move A Parent With Dementia To Assisted Living

Studies Show That Losing Your Sense Of Smell Could Indicate Cognitive Decline

While it can be hard to draw broad conclusions about individual studies, there seems to be a link between dementia and a poor sense of smell. Studies keep finding the same thing: losing your sense of smell is associated with cognitive decline and dementia.

In one study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, elderly people who were healthy and who scored worse on smell tests had smaller brain volume in areas associated with memory. Furthermore, they were more likely to suffer from poor memory when compared to their peers. Even for healthy people, losing their sense of smell could be a sign of other things going on within their brains and bodies.

Another study from Columbia University found that the lower a person scored on a smell test, the more likely they were to develop dementia in the following four years. In fact, for every point scored lower on the smell test, there was a 10% increased risk of developing dementia.

Another study from researchers at the University of Florida had participants sniffing a spoonful of peanut butter under their noses. As with the other studies, similar results were discovered. Participants with an early diagnosis of Alzheimers disease had more trouble smelling the peanut butter.

Losing The Ability To Smell These Five Things Could Predict Dementia Five Years Before Symptoms Appear

Smell Link To Dementia

A study of almost 3,000 adults found that those who could not identify at least four out of five common smells were more than twice as likely to develop the disease

  • Andrea Downey
  • 13:17, 29 Sep 2017

A SIMPLE smell test could detect if you are going to develop dementia, new research suggests.

A long-term study of almost 3,000 adults aged between 57 and 85 found that those who could not identify at least four out of five common smells were more than twice as likely to develop the disease within five years.

The five odours, in order of increasing difficulty, were peppermint, fish, orange, rose and leather.

Most people, about 78 per cent, were able to correctly identify at least four out of the five scents but 14 per cent could only name three, five per cent could name two, two per cent could name one and one per cent were unable to name any.

Five years later almost all of the people who couldn’t identify any of the smells had been diagnosed with dementia.

And nearly 80 per cent of those who could only name one or two scents had also developed the disease.

Lead author Jayant Pinto, a professor of surgery at the University of Chicago, said: “These results show that the sense of smell is closely connected with brain function and health.

“We think smell ability specifically, but also sensory function more broadly, may be an important early sign, marking people at greater risk for dementia.

People in the studies were asked to sniff them and identify each scent.

Recommended Reading: What Is The Difference Between Dementia And Senility

Could Fading Sense Of Smell Mean Death Is Closer

Study found association — but don’t panic if your sniffer is no longer up to snuff

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, March 22, 2017 — Loss of smell even in your 40s and 50s is linked to an earlier death — and dementia isn’t the culprit, a new study suggests.

The Swedish study found that in middle age and beyond, people with a poor sense of smell had about a 20 percent increased risk of dying within 10 years, said study co-author Jonas Olofsson.

“The sense of smell seems to be a good indicator of aging brain health,” said Olofsson, an associate professor of psychology at Stockholm University.

“We see smell function as the ‘canary in the coal mine,'” he added.

Although dementia previously had been linked with diminished sense of smell, the researchers found that “dementia could not explain any part of the link between smell loss and mortality risk,” Olofsson said. “So there has to be a different, yet unknown, biological explanation for the link.”

As many as 7 out of 10 older people have an impaired sense of smell — a condition called anosmia — compared to 15 percent or less of younger people, the researchers said in background notes.

Earlier research has suggested that seniors who perform poorly on smell tests are likely to die sooner than their scent-detecting peers. The researchers wondered if this connection might apply to middle-aged people as well. And, could dementia play a role?


This particular challenge involved 13 odors and four possible answers.

The Potential For Early Diagnosis Of Dementia

A loss of smell could mean that significant damage to the brain has occurred, which could explain the onset of dementia in these patients. The use of a simple smell test could be something that physicians use to diagnose the condition much earlier.

The researchers hypothesize that a decreased sense of smell may signal a decrease in the brains ability to rebuild key components of the brain that decline with age.

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Sense Of Smell And Dementia: Whats The Connection

So we know that a decreased sense of smell is associated with dementia, but what exactly does our sense of smell have to do with cognitive decline anyway? Researchers believe that the areas of the brain responsible for smell are the first to go with dementiaeven before the parts of the brain that are responsible for memory are affected.

What this means is that before you notice the typical symptoms of Alzheimers disease or dementia, damage to your brain may have already occurred. In fact, you could have dementia without yet having any problems with your memory or thinking.

Researchers have found that a lost sense of smell may be due to buildup of a toxic plaque in the brain. The protein beta-amyloid causes plaque to form in the brain of Alzheimers patients. In animal studies, researchers have found that mice with plaque also have a lower sense of smell. However, removing the beta-amyloid plaque results in mice regaining their ability to smell.

Unfortunately, we are not yet able to remove beta-amyloid from the brains of people with Alzheimers disease. Researchers are hopeful that eventually these findings will lead to treatments to help slow or stop the progression of Alzheimers disease.

Should You Test Your Sense Of Smell

Sense of smell and Alzheimer’s

A simple smell test is not recommended as a way to identify those at risk for dementia at this time, although it’s possible that it may be included as part of a battery of tests. What may be more productive at this time is focusing on what you can do to reduce your risk of developing dementia, such as mental activity, physical exercise, and a healthy diet.

Also Check: Senility Vs Dementia Vs Alzheimer’s

Dementia Can Be Accurately Predicted Five Years Before Symptoms Develop With A Simple Smell Test According To New Research A Study Of Almost 3000 Older People Found Those Who Cannot Identify At Least Four Out Of Five Common Odours Were More Than Twice As Likely To Develop The Disease And The Worse Their Sense Of

Dementia can be accurately predicted five years before symptoms develop with a simple smell test, according to new research.

A study of almost 3,000 older people found those who cannot identify at least four out of five common odours were more than twice as likely to develop the disease.

And the worse their sense of smell, the bigger the risk, said scientists.

The aromas in order of increasing difficulty were peppermint, fish, orange, rose and leather and could be used as an early warning system.

This would allow drugs and lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and more exercise, to be more effective before the devastating condition takes hold.

The findings add to growing evidence the first damage to the brain occurs in olfactory neurons, which distinguish between different aromas.

Five years after the initial test almost all the participants, aged 57 to 85, who were unable to name a single scent had been diagnosed with dementia.

Changes In Smell And Taste From Dementia

Although smell and taste are two distinct senses, they are linked in many ways. People with dementia may become unable to discern subtle changes in smell, which can lead to an inability to smell smoke from a fire or tell if food is spoiled. And when taste also becomes impaired, people with dementia may consume spoiled food without knowing it.

  • Keeping the refrigerator and pantry cleared of any outdated foods

  • Securing all hazardous objects or substances, including over-the-counter medications and cleaning supplies

  • Consider providing safe objects for the person to tongue or chew, such as a wooden spoon or teething ring, if they persist in this behavior

  • Be vigilant about choking hazards and know how to perform the Heimlich maneuver

Read Also: How Fast Does Dementia Kill

How Dementia Tampers With Taste Buds

Many people with dementia change their eating habits after they get the disease and researchers are trying to discover why. But caregivers can help their loved ones get proper nutrition with a few simple tricks.

People with dementia experience many big and small changes as a result of their symptoms. One surprising change is in a dementia patients taste buds. Because they dont experience flavor the way they once did, people with dementia often change their eating habits and adopt entirely new food preferences.

One study looked at patients with a specific kind of dementia characterized by changes in food preferences and eating behaviors along with the more typical dementia symptoms. The researchers found that these dementia patients had trouble identifying flavors and appeared to have lost the ability to remember tastes, leading to the theory that the dementia caused the patients to lose their knowledge of flavors, which in turn can lead to changes in eating behaviors.

At the same time, taste tends to diminish as we age, so dementia patients may crave heavy foods or heavily flavored foods like sweets, says Jillian Ball, RD, of Jillian Ball & Associates Nutrition Consulting in Springfield, Mo. Ball likens it to when you have a cold and cant taste food as well as usual. She once worked with a 100-year-old dementia patient who only wanted a strong broth and heavy buttermilk for her meals.

Adapting to a Dementia Patients Changing Taste Buds

Loss Of Smell Linked To Increased Risk Of Dementia

Is Losing Your Sense of Smell a Sign of Dementia? Study ...

Loss of smell may be an early sign of an increased risk of dementia, according to research published this month in the journal Alzheimers & Dementia.

The study found that people in their 70s who were unable to identify odors from such items as roses, lemons, onions and turpentine were significantly more likely to develop dementia over the next decade than their peers who could depict the smells.

The olfactory bulb, which is critical for smell, is affected fairly early on in the course of the disease, says Willa Brenowitch, the studys lead author and a neuroscientist at UCSF, in a released statement. Its thought that smell may be a preclinical indicator of dementia, while hearing and vision may have more of a role in promoting dementia.

Brenowitch and her colleagues believe that assessing peoples sensory impairments could be a useful tool to help identify or prevent dementia.

An estimated 5 million adults aged 65 and older are living with dementia in the United States a number that is expected to grow to 14 million by 2060, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

Study details

For the study, Brenowitz and her colleagues followed 1,794 adults aged 70 to 79 for up to 10 years. None of the participants had dementia when they entered the study, but 328 developed the condition by the studys end.

These findings held even after adjusting for underlying medical conditions.

Limitations and implications

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Changes In Vision From Dementia

It is common for a person with dementia to experience various vision impairments. They may lose the ability to easily differentiate colors, for example, so that a wall with two tones of paint may look monochromatic to them. Or they may experience reduced depth perception. This can cause dark patches on a floor, such as black tiles alternating with white ones, to look like dangerous holes.

If a person with dementia has experienced a , you can help by:

  • Scheduling regular eye exams and keeping prescription eyeglasses up to date

  • Seeking treatment for age-related vision concerns like or

  • Clearly marking stair steps with reflective tape

  • Maintaining adequate lighting inside the home

Olfactory Decrease Matches Increase In Memory Loss

The test they used involved six food-related and six non-food-related smells . Participants had to scratch, sniff and select one of four possible options, for a score to be computed.

Over an average of 3.5 years of follow-up, the authors identified 250 new cases of MCI among the 1,430 participants.

There was an association between a decreasing ability to identify smells as measured by a decrease in the number of correct answers in the smell test score and an increased risk of amnestic MCI . There appeared to be no association between a decreased sense of smell score and nonamnestic MCI , which can affect other thinking skills.

The authors also reported 64 dementia cases among 221 individuals with prevalent MCI. A decrease in the frequency of any or AD dementia was associated with increasing scores on the smell test. The worst smell test score categories were associated with progression from aMCI to AD dementia.

The findings suggest an association between olfactory impairment, incidental MCI and progression from aMCI to AD dementia, and confirm previous studies linking olfactory impairment with cognitive impairment in late life.

  • 10-20% of over-65s are estimated to have MCI
  • Alzheimers accounts for 60-80% of all dementias
  • 10% of dementias are vascular.

The olfactory bulb is thought to be involved because smell loss occurs only in neurodegenerative conditions where there is olfactory pathology, such as AD and Parkinsons disease.

Also Check: Does Alzheimer Disease Run In The Family

How Does Smell Training Work

Neuroplasticity, our brains ability to change continuously in response to experience, may be key to how smell training works.

Neuroplasticity involves the generation of new connections and/or the strengthening of existing connections between neurons , which in turn may lead to changes in thinking skills or behaviour. We can see evidence of neuroplasticity when we practise a skill such as playing an instrument or learning a new language.

The olfactory network is considered particularly neuroplastic. Neuroplasticity may therefore underlie the positive results from smell training, both in terms of improving olfactory ability and boosting capacity for other cognitive tasks.

Read more:Explainer: nature, nurture and neuroplasticity

Alzheimer’s Researchers Sharing Findings On Covid

Early Signs of Dementia -First sign of dementia

Now, researchers at UT Health San Antonio are studying patients like Hernandez, trying to understand why their cognitive problems persist and whether their brains have been changed in ways that elevate the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The San Antonio researchers are among the teams of scientists from around the world who will present their findings on how COVID-19 affects the brain at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, which begins Monday in Denver.

What scientists have found so far is concerning.

For example, PET scans taken before and after a person develops COVID-19 suggest that the infection can cause changes that overlap those seen in Alzheimer’s. And genetic studies are finding that some of the same genes that increase a person’s risk for getting severe COVID-19 also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s diagnoses also appear to be more common in patients in their 60s and 70s who have had severe COVID-19, says Dr. Gabriel de Erausquin, a professor of neurology at UT Health San Antonio. “It’s downright scary,” he says.

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