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Nov 17, 2015 10:13 AM EST

Losing your sense of smell might be a warning for Alzheimer's

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A new study suggests that losing your sense of smell might be a warning of the start of Alzheimer's disease, US News suggests.

"The findings suggest that doing a smell test may help identify elderly, mentally normal people who are likely to progress to develop memory problems or, if they have these problems, to progress to Alzheimer's dementia," said lead researcher Rosebud Roberts, a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

"Physicians need to recognize that this may be a possible screening tool that can be used in the clinic," she added.

The study revealed that older adults who had the worst smell test scores were 2.2 times more likely to begin having mild memory problems. If these adults already had memory problems, they were likely to progress to full-blown Alzheimer's disease.

The report was published online Nov. 16 in JAMA Neurology.

For the study, the researchers studied data on more than 1,400 mentally normal adults who were an average of 79 years old.  The findings showed that for an average of 3.5 years of follow-up, 250 people developed memory problems. Also, 64 among 221 people with the most serious memory problems developed dementia.

However, the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. Also, no link was established between a decreased sense of smell and mild cognitive impairment.

"These findings may indicate that there could be a problem linked to neurodegenerative diseases in general," said James Hendrix, the director of global science initiatives at the Alzheimer's Association.

He said that a smell test in the future could detect if something is going wrong with someone's brain.

"It would need follow-up to determine whether it was Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson disease or some other condition," Hendrix said.

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