A new study indicates that our nose can provide clues to dementia risk.
The long-term study, conducted by the University of Chicago, found that those between the ages of 57 to 85 who we unable to pick up on common odors were more than twice as likely as those with a normal sense of smell to develop dementia within five years.
Sadly, almost all of the study participants (there were 3,000) who were unable to name a single scent had been diagnosed with dementia just a few years after the study was completed. Those who identified only one or two correct answers also developed dementia within five years.
The study shows a close connection between smell and brain function and even overall health. Scientists said that other sensory functions may also be important signals of the disease once the ability to use them begin to diminish.
Dementia, of course, cannot be cured. My work as an advocate for patients with this disease is to train family members and professional caregivers. My training revolves around the notion that dementia cannot be stopped, fixed or changed. With this new set of thinking, caregivers and family members caring for patients are able to find new benchmarks for success, moments of connection and purposeful relationships.
Understanding the disease, and its early signs, is also important. This study in particularly gives scientists insight into the underlying mechanisms that control smell, and how they relate to brain function. Scientists may be able to trace the brain degeneration that led to olfactory dysfunction to other areas of study and early causes of dementia. That is the hope.
There is no cure now, but studies like these on early signs can provide the additional clues we need to one day fully understand the causes of dementia, develop new treatments and begin to implement preventive measures.
Please read my other blog posts to learn about other studies on early signs of dementia.