Sniffing out patients with Alzheimer’s

By Ann Griswold • Published: March 24th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The nose knows, so they say. That phrase rings especially true when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study by scientists at New York University. Their research shows that loss of smell may be a very early sign of the degenerative condition.

Alzheimer’s disease affects nearly five million Americans, most over the age of sixty-five. The condition causes irreversible loss of brain function… and while treatment can slow disease progression, patients are often not diagnosed until they’ve suffered a severe decline in mental health.

Scientists have long known about proteins known as amyloids [AM-A-LOYDS] that gradually accumulate in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. In the new study, scientists found that as the disease progressed in mice, amyloids accumulated first in the region of the brain above the nose… a region involved in smell.

The scientists also designed a test to measure the animals’ sense of smell and found that as more protein accumulated, mice took longer to pick up a scent. The smell test was extremely sensitive, detecting small amounts of amyloids in mice as young as three months, roughly equal to a human adolescent or young adult. Scientists say the test could prove a quick and affordable alternative to a brain scan, especially if it helps diagnose young patients who have not yet experienced significant deterioration of the brain.

So if you’re constantly wondering if senility is creeping in, relax and take a moment to smell the roses. If it smells like a rose …and you remember that it’s CALLED a rose… then you just might be doing fine.