(NaturalNews) What if early detection of dementia was as simple as measuring the quality of a person's sense of smell? Researchers from the McKnight Brain Institute Center for Smell and Taste and the University of Florida (UF) seem to think this might be the case, as they recently found that a simple smell test involving a dollop of peanut butter and a ruler is a highly effective way of detecting and confirming the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
Since it is already well-known that cranial nerve deterioration is one of the first observable symptoms with cognitive decline, Jennifer Stamps and her colleagues from the two schools decided to construct a simple smell test to see whether or not this deterioration is detectable. They chose to use peanut butter as the test substance because it is a pure odorant, which means it is only detected by the olfactory nerve rather than multiple sensory systems.
Together with Dr. Kenneth Heilman, a professor of neurology at UF, Stamps constructed a simple analysis protocol in which a group of patients was brought into a clinic and observed for olfactory acuity. Some of the patients had previously been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, while the rest had not. But the clinicians performing the analysis were not made privy to any of the patients' various diagnoses.
For the test, each patient was placed in front of a ruler holding 14 grams, or about one tablespoon, of peanut butter and told to keep his or her eyes, mouth and one nostril closed. The patients were then instructed to breathe normally, during which time the clinicians adjusted the rulers to varying distances away from the patients' noses to see how well they were able to smell the peanut butter. The test was performed separately on both the left and right nostrils of the patients.
Impaired smelling ability in the left nostril could point to early-onset Alzheimer's
In the end, there was a dramatic difference in smelling ability between the patients diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's disease and their non-diagnosed counterparts. According to the study's final outcome, which was published in the Journal of Neurological Sciences, patients with early-stage dementia had clear impairment in the smelling abilities of their left nostrils. The peanut butter samples, it turns out, had to be placed about 10 centimeters closer to these patients' left nostrils compared to their right nostrils in order to be detected.
Conversely, the patients with other kinds of dementia or no dementia at all did not have this smelling disparity, which the research team says serves as evidence that olfactory ability can accurately assess cognitive status. Among the 24 patients tested who only had mild cognitive impairment, which may or may not eventually develop into Alzheimer's, 10 of them had left nostril impairment, while the remaining 14 did not.
"At the moment, we can use this test to confirm diagnosis," explained Stamps about the findings, noting that they would be used alongside future tests to better refine the detection process. "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."