Researchers said that elderly participants who had low scores on a standardized smell test had a slightly high risk of being affected by memory loss in the next three and a half years following the testing.
Moreover, people who performed the worst in that test had the highest risk of developing dementia or being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease over the same period. Scientists hope that their findings may soon help clinicians diagnose the disorders long before their symptoms’ onset.
The study, which was published this week in the journal JAMA Neurology, was conducted by a research team from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. More than 1,400 participants were tested during the research. The average age of the group was 79 years.
The smell test required participants to take a sniff at 12 scents that included food-related smells such as banana and spice, and non-food-related smells such as soap and flowers. None of the volunteers had been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s before the study.
As a follow-up, Mayo researchers decided to track study participants for three and a half years to see whether there was any change in their mental health. During that period, 250 volunteers were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment such as memory loss and attention issues, while 64 participants of the 250 were diagnosed with dementia. Fifty-four people of the dementia group had the Alzheimer’s form of the disease.
Study investigators acknowledged that they didn’t back the results of their research with extensive brain scans. So, they need to conduct more research before they can reach a final conclusion. But the link they found between sensory loss and cognitive decline was still significant.
The team believes that the newly-discovered association may be caused by the way degeneration affects the two parts of the brain that control sense of smell and memory respectively.
Study authors, however, recommend people who sense a slight sensory loss to not panic, because this phenomenon may have other causes including normal aging processes. So, a slight loss of smell may not necessarily indicate a high risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Authors of the study hope that their findings could soon be used by doctors to assess their patients’ risk of Alzheimer’s so that they can make a timely decision on the most appropriate course of action. The smell test may provide even more accurate results if it is combined with other tests and scans, researchers believe.
Image Source: Pixabay
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