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If you can't smell this food you have Alzheimer's disease

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Peanut butter smell test to confirm Alzheimer's disease

University of Florida researchers have tapped into a cheap and quick to confirm Alzheimer's disease diagnosis using peanut butter and smell. The scientists are continuing their study to find out if using the olfactory senses could also tell who could develop the disease.

In their study, people with early Alzheimer's disease had trouble detecting the odor of peanut butter in their left nostril, compared to those without the disease, which confirmed loss of smell as an inexpensive and fast way to diagnose the disease.

Sniff test for predicting Alzheimer's risk may be in the future

The researchers explain the first thing to go when Alzheimer's disease develops is sense of smell. The olfactory center of the brain begins to degrade.

Detecting changes in smell was easiest with peanut butter because it's considered a "pure odorant", which means it is detected only by the olfactory nerve Other smells involve activation of the trigeminal nerve in the face.

Findings published in the Sept. 28, 2011 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience showed an Alzheimer's protein kills nerve cells in the nose, which also suggested there may be a way to reverse formation of amyloid proteins that form in the brain of patients with the neurological disease.

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Olfactory changes were identified as early as 2005 in autopsies of patients with the disease. That finding suggested biopsies of nasal mucosa might also be a way to diagnose Alzheimer's.

Other researchers have been studying ways to detect the disease early that would mean opportunities to make lifestyle changes as early as age 40.

Researcher Jennifer Stamps at UF McKnight Brain Institute Center for Smell and Taste performed the experiment. The test involved holding a ruler to the noses of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Participants in the study closed their eyes and shut one nostril at a time while Stamps slowly moved peanut butter closer to the nose. Measurements were taken with the ruler to document at what point the peanut butter scent was detected.

Stamps and her team found Alzheimer's and dementia leads to decreased smell in the left nostril. An older person could smell peanut butter at 20cm in the right nostril. The smell took longer to pick up in the left nostril - 10 cm.

It's possible the smell test could be used in the future to detect which patients might develop Alzheimer's disease Stamps said. Pinpointing those at risk would mean intervening early to slow the disease.

Using peanut butter to detect changes in smell to confirm Alzheimer's disease is a test that can be used now Stamps said. "But we plan to study patients with mild cognitive impairment to see if this test might be used to predict which patients are going to get Alzheimer’s disease.’

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