A surprising symptom of Alzheimer’s disease: Loss of sense of smell as a potential early warning sign

A groundbreaking study conducted at the University of Chicago has uncovered a previously unknown potential early sign of Alzheimer’s disease – loss of sense of smell. It turns out that this unexpected symptom is particularly common in people with a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease. The findings, published in the journal Neurology, could revolutionize the early detection and understanding of this devastating neurodegenerative disease.

Significance of the discovery:

Dr. Matthew S. GoodSmith, lead author of the study, emphasized the importance of this discovery, stating that testing a person’s ability to recognize smells could be a valuable way to predict future cognitive problems. This discovery offers hope for early intervention and treatment.

Focus of the study:

The study primarily involved people with the APOE e4 gene variant, which has long been associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The APOE gene is responsible for transporting cholesterol and fats through the bloodstream. Although some variants of this gene are not associated with dementia, the APOE e4 allele is strongly associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. People who inherit two copies of the APOE e4 gene have an even higher risk.

What the researchers found:

Researchers noted that carriers of the APOE e4 gene are more likely to experience loss of smell and cognitive decline compared to those without the gene. Previous studies have established a link between olfactory loss and brain inflammation, which is also associated with cognitive decline. The new study deepens our understanding of this relationship and provides valuable insights into the complex development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Promising results:

The study involved 865 participants who completed a home-based questionnaire that assessed their ability to detect odors and accurately identify them. While the link between the sense of smell and Alzheimer’s disease may seem unusual, the results of this study are promising. Olfactory screening may provide a non-invasive and preliminary method for identifying individuals at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, opening new avenues for early intervention and treatment.

Olfactory loss and its causes:

Loss of the sense of smell, known medically as anosmia, is a condition characterized by impaired or complete loss of the ability to distinguish odors. It can be caused by two different causes: conductive (or obstructive) olfactory loss and sensorineural olfactory loss. Conductive olfactory loss occurs when something physically obstructs the flow of air carrying odor to the olfactory receptors in the nose, such as nasal congestion from colds, sinusitis, allergies, nasal polyps, or other blockages in the nasal cavity.

Dr. Richard J. Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, commented on the significance of the study, stating, “The findings suggest that a simple olfactory test could be used to identify people at risk for dementia.” This view is shared by other experts in the field, who believe that early detection of the disease is crucial for effective intervention and treatment.

In conclusion, the discovery that loss of sense of smell can serve as an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease is a significant breakthrough in the field of neurodegenerative research. By testing the sense of smell, experts will be able to identify people at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and provide them with early intervention and treatment options. This research opens up new possibilities for understanding and combating this devastating disease.

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