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Don’t forget to smell

Posted by Stephen on July 3, 2007

This is not a story about your hygiene habits. However, if you don’t remember if you took a shower today, than it might be a story for you.

“Older people should report a loss in smell to their doctors,” said Claire Murphy, an Alzheimer’s researcher at San Diego State University.

That’s the quote that got my attention. Alzheimer’s, all kidding aside, is one of the most freighting ailments we face. Many people would rather be run over by a speeding bus…twice…than face the slow and emotionally painful fate that awaits us with Alzheimer’s.

The science and medical fields are cluttered with studies and theories on the disease as they struggle to identify indicators that might help in finding a cure, or at least a way to postpone the symptoms of this mind stealing disease.

Fox News sited a recent study that states “Difficulty identifying common smells such as lemon, banana and cinnamon may be the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study that could lead to scratch-and-sniff tests to determine a person’s risk for the progressive brain disorder.”

The report adds that such tests could be important if scientists find ways to slow or stop Alzheimer’s and the severe memory loss associated with it. Sadly, there’s no cure for the more than 5 million Americans with the disease.

“Strictly on the basis of anatomy, yeah, this makes sense,” said Robert Franks, an expert on odor perception and the brain at the University of Cincinnati who spoke to Fox. Franks was not involved in the new study, appearing in Monday’s Archives of General Psychiatry.

In the study, 600 people between the ages of 54 and 100 were asked to identify a dozen familiar smells: onion, lemon, cinnamon, black pepper, chocolate, rose, banana, pineapple, soap, paint thinner, gasoline and smoke.

According to the Fox report, for each mystery scent, they heard and saw a choice of four answers. For cinnamon, they were asked aloud: “Fruit? Cinnamon? Woody? Or coconut?” while also seeing the choices in text.

The people who made at least four errors on the odor test were 50 percent more likely to develop problems than people who made no more than one error. Difficulty identifying odors also was associated with a higher risk of progressing from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s.

The researchers took into account age, gender, education and a history of strokes or smoking, and still found lower scores predicted higher risk of cognitive decline.

Lead author Robert Wilson of Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center said a diminishing sense of smell isn’t cause for panic, but added that older people who notice a loss of smell should report it to their doctor.

“If a person is old and has a very good sense of smell, that’s a very good sign,” Murphy said.

If that’s my best hope then I’m going to take it to heart. I’m smelling everything from cat pooh to cantaloupe. So, if you hear someone sniffing you from behind, don’t be alarmed, they’re probably just trying to maintain a…sense of self.

Stephen Winslow is the executive editor of Conservative Viewpoints.

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