Researchers from the University of Florida have discovered an unusual test that may be able to detect Alzheimer’s disease early.
How? By using peanut butter.
Jennifer Stamps, who was a graduate student in the UF McKnight Brain Institute Center for Smell and Taste noticed that patients who were being tested for Alzheimer’s were not tested for their sense of smell. She found this unusual, since the ability to smell is often one of the first things to be affected in cognitive decline.
Ms. Stamps wanted to devise an easy, low-cost way to detect Alzheimer’s using smell. She thought of peanut butter because “it is a ‘pure odorant’ that is only detected by the olfactory nerve and is easy to access,” according to the University of Florida’s website.
How it works
(Image credit: YouTube)
For the study, participants were asked to sit down with a clinician to find out how sensitive their sense of smell was, using 14 grams of peanut butter.
A metric ruler was held next to their nose while the patient closed his or her eyes, mouth and one nostril. The clinician held the peanut butter next to the ruler below the open nostril while the patient breathed normally. Then researchers moved the peanut butter cup up the ruler until the patient could smell the odor. This process was repeated on the other side of the nose after a delay of 90 seconds.
Researchers discovered that patients who were in early stage Alzheimer’s had a difficult time detecting the smell of the peanut butter in the left nostril. The cup of peanut butter had to be an average of 10 centimeters closer to the nose than the right nostril.
But though there was a strong correlation in patients with early stage Alzheimer’s, there was limited to no correlation to patients’ ability to smell peanut butter with other kinds of dementia.
Other researchers skeptical
Some scientists, such as Dr. David Knopman from the Mayo Clinic are doubtful that this kind of simple test can really diagnose a disease as complicated as Alzheimer’s. James Hendrix of the Alzheimer’s Association says that it is still too early to use a smell test like this one as a diagnostic tool.
Right now, it can only be used to confirm Alzheimer’s, not diagnose the disease.
‘At the moment, we can use this test to confirm diagnosis,’ said Stamps. ‘But we plan to study patients with mild cognitive impairment to see if this test might be used to predict which patients are going to get Alzheimer’s disease.’