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Can't Smell Peanut Butter? Alzheimer's May Be the Culprit

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerJanuary 20, 2016

Grab a jar of peanut butter. Can you smell it? If so, you may not have Alzheimer’s disease.

Although it may sound bizarre, a new study reports that this method is a promising way to confirm a disease diagnosis. Learn more.

Linking Sense of Smell to Alzheimer’s

Researchers at The University of Florida asked over 90 participants to smell a spoonful of peanut butter at a short distance from their nose. Some participants had a confirmed early stage Alzheimer’s diagnosis, some had  other forms of dementia, while others had no cognitive or neurological problems.

Of those participants, only those with a confirmed diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s had trouble smelling the peanut butter. Additionally, those patients also had a harder time smelling the peanut butter with their left nostril. Generally, the right nostril was able to smell the peanut butter 10 centimeters farther away than the left nostril. The difference in smell between left and right nostril in unique to the disease.

Sense of smell is often the first sense to go in cognitive decline, even before memory loss, which is why this could be an effective tool in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

Research on Sense of Smell Disputed

Some neurologists, like Dr. David Knopman from the Mayo Clinic, are skeptical that a simple process can diagnose such a complicated disease.

Also, with smell impairments being much greater in other forms of dementia, some neurologists believe that while it could diagnose cognitive impairment, the test unfortunately can’t differentiate between separate types of dementia.

At this point, the test can only be used to confirm an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and is not a way to diagnose the disease.

How Failing Sense of Smell Could Be a Warning Sign for Alzheimer’s

However, recent research is strengthening the connection between a failing sense of smell and an early warning of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota found that seniors who had the worst test scores on a smell test were 2.2 times more likely to show signs of mild cognitive decline. Additionally, if participants were already exhibiting memory problems and obtained low smell test scores, they were more likely to progress to Alzheimer’s.

Researchers collected data on over 1,400 healthy seniors with an average age of 79 years old. Over the three and a half year study, 250 people developed mild memory programs and 64 people developed dementia. Seniors completed smell tests to include six food items and six non-food items. Through the study. researchers noted that as the sense of smell declined, the likelihood of memory problems and Alzheimer’s increased. Lead researcher, Rosebud Roberts is encouraged by the study stating:

“The findings suggest that doing a smell test may help identify elderly, mentally normal people who are likely to progress to develop memory problems or, if they have these problems, to progress to Alzheimer’s or dementia.”

The study was published in JAMA Neurology and researchers are cautious to note that their study does not indicate a cause and effect relationship. James Hendrix of the Alzheimer’s Association notes, “These findings may indicate that there could be a problem linked to neurodegenerative diseases in general,” but agrees that it’s too early to use a smell test as a diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Have you or a senior loved one confirmed an Alzheimer’s diagnosis using a smell test? Share your story with us in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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