Alzheimer’s disease attacks the brain slowly, usually over the course of many years. Watch a video on understanding how Alzheimer’s attacks the brain. There are many stages of the disease. One of the first parts of the brain that Alzheimer’s affects is the front part of the temporal lobe. This part of the brain is involved in memories and the function of the smell system. Loss of smell is often one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s. In fact, a study done at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota suggests that losing one’s sense of smell may be the precursor for memory problems.
Health researchers at the University of Florida are now saying that just one tablespoon of peanut butter held a few centimeters away from someone’s nose can confirm an early Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Scientists at UF recently conducted a study using a ruler, a small cup of peanut butter, and participants who all had either mild cognitive impairment, an early Alzheimer’s diagnosis, or some other form of dementia.
During the study, researchers held a ruler next to participants’ noses. Participants were asked to close their eyes and to hold one nostril closed at a time with their finger. Researchers then moved a small cup of peanut butter slowly up the ruler. Participants were asked to say when they detected an odor. Researchers tracked the distance from each nostril at which each person could smell the peanut butter. Watch a video to see how the test was performed.
Every participant in the study who had been diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease had a harder time detecting the odor from their left nostril. The participants with other forms of cognitive decline or dementia showed either no difference between odor detection in both nostrils, or their right nostril was worse at detecting an odor. Researchers say that this test shows that, one day, tests like the peanut butter test could be used to diagnose people with Alzheimer’s instead of just to confirm an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
While it is still too early to use a smell test to diagnose the disease, this study is promising. Recently, funding for Alzheimer’s was increased by 60 percent. This was the largest increase in Alzheimer’s funding to date, and the extra funding will allow for many more similar research studies. Soon, scientists could be able to diagnose Alzheimer’s earlier than was ever thought possible.