A Scratch-and-Sniff Alzheimer’s Test?

As the leading cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s remains as great a mystery as any modern disease. And while there is still no cure, researchers are investigating new, simpler ways to identify and treat it early on.

What if rather than paying for an expensive MRI or PET scan to check for physical evidence of the onset of Alzheimer’s, you could do a scratch-and-sniff test? That’s what scientists are trying to find out, and they’ll be presenting their early-stage trials to the upcoming Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen this weekend, The Washington Post reports.

Fredrick Kunkle of The Washington Post writes:

“In one trial, researchers led by Reisa Sperling in the Harvard Aging Brain Study focused on 215 clinically normal people who had no complaint of memory loss and were living in their communities. They were given the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test, a packet of scratch-and-sniff panels with 40 different odors.

“The participants then underwent more exhaustive mental and physical evaluation, including annual cognitive evaluations; genetic analysis of known risk factors; and brain scans using MRIs and positron emission tomography (PET).

“What the researchers found was that people who performed poorly on the odor-identification and memory tests also showed elevated levels of beta amyloid proteins in their brains, as shown in PET scans and other tests. Their entorhinal cortexes were also thinner, which is associated with poorer memory.”

Alzheimer’s experts do caution that these trials are only an early step in the larger process of finding new ways to detect Alzheimer’s early on. It’s a small sample, and no research has been submitted to–let alone published by–any medical journal. After all, there are a number of reasons why someone’s sense of smell might be diminished that are not Alzheimer’s.

But this research, along with others that involve relatively simple eye exams, represent an encouraging step toward non-invasive and more cost-effective ways to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages.

Read the Washington Post article in full.

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