Two studies released at an international Alzheimer's meeting Tuesday suggest doctors may eventually be able to screen people for this form of dementia by testing the ability to identify familiar odors, like smoke, coffee and raspberry.
In both studies, people who were in their 60s and older took a standard odor detection test. And in both cases, those who did poorly on the test were more likely to already have — or go on to develop — problems with memory and thinking.
"The whole idea is to create tests that a general clinician can use in an office setting," says Dr. William Kreisl, a neurologist at Columbia University, where both studies were done. The research was presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Toronto.
Currently, any tests that are able to spot people in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's are costly and difficult. They include PET scans, which can detect sticky plaques in the brain, and spinal taps that measure the levels of certain proteins in spinal fluid.
The idea of an odor detection test arose, in part, from something doctors have observed for many years in patients with Alzheimer's, Kreisl says.