The Sniff Test Helps in Diagnosing Alzheimer’s

Diagnosis is a critical aspect of treatment when it comes to illnesses like Alzheimer’s. While there is no effective method of curing Alzheimer’s, it is possible to keep the disease at bay for a while, though certain treatments have begun to show promise.

As with most such ailments, the sooner one begins undertaking treatment, the better. However, the diagnosis has always presented a challenge for medical professionals. Doctors have to rely on a series of assessments that constitute physical and neurological tests in order to better identify the manifestation of the disease in patients; and oftentimes, the diagnosis comes too late, after patients have begun to display worrying symptoms.

It has become the objective of a number of medical organizations to identify more effective ways of detecting Alzheimer’s, methods that can bring the potential of the disease to light as quickly as possible, giving doctors an opportunity to try and manage the disease sooner.

According to David R. Roalf, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry (School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania), the key to detecting and diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease might be the nose.

The Smell Test

The work Roalf and his team has done, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, builds upon previous studies which suggested that sense of smell has a tendency to diminish when Alzheimer’s starts to manifest. In fact, some studies have proven that individuals with a reduced sense of smell have higher than average chances of manifesting brain abnormalities. The study published by Roalf and his team essentially determined that a sniff test could boost the accuracy of conventional Alzheimer’s tests.

Over seven hundred subjects (all older adults) participated in the study. Of these patients, roughly 300 were healthy, while over 250 subjects had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The other 174 subjects had Mild Cognitive Impairment (a precursor to Alzheimer’s). The Sniffin’ Sticks Odor Identification Test (SS-OIT) was used to examine each participant’s sense of smell; the subjects had to identify 16 different odors.

Some standard cognitive testing was also done. The cognitive test was able to diagnose MCI with an impressive 75% accuracy. However, the SS-OIT raised that accuracy to 87%, which is significant. Tests involving Alzheimer’s were just as impressive. This proved that a sniff test could be used as a supplementary tool when it came to diagnosing and categorizing Alzheimer’s.

There is no reason to believe that sniff tests will receive widespread use now that their viability has been proven. Unfortunately, most Alzheimer’s tests take a long time to administer, and adding the sniff test will only make them more cumbersome. As such, it is easy to see why many health experts might choose to ignore them altogether. Roalf hopes that his team can find a way to shorten the Sniffin’ Sticks Odor Identification Test. His team is also working to determine whether the protein markers of Alzheimer’s can be used to detect Alzheimer’s during its earliest stages.