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Not smelling fish could signal dementia

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New research from the University of Chicago is showing promising results for spotting those at risk for degenerative brain diseases as they age. The test, which can detect dementia up to six years prior to noticeable symptoms, involves a simple scratch-and-sniff. Previous studies have found that a loss of overall sense of smell is indicative of dementia risk, but now this study has pinpointed specific scents as risk factors.

Those who were unable to smell the pungent scents of peppermint, fish, orange, rose, and leather were most at risk for the disease.

Five years after the study had ended, almost all patients who reported an inability to smell these objects were diagnosed; nearly 80 percent of patients who provided just one or two correct answers also had dementia.

Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia are among the leading causes of death in the United States; and as of now there is no known cure. For this reason, early detection of risk factors for the chronic illness is key to providing effective treatment and prevention.

Currently, early detection methods are lacking - the disease can go unnoticed for up to 20 years, worsening in the interim before detection. Using this earlier method of detection, however, this study suggests that those who can't smell these specific odors could increase their chances of survival by making dietary and lifestyle changes to ward off the illness.

"Loss of the sense of smell is a strong signal that something has gone wrong and significant damage has been done," said Professor Jayant Pinto. "This simple smell test could provide a quick and inexpensive way to identify those who are already at high risk."

Of course, an inability to smell these objects doesn't automatically diagnose dementia - it's simply a risk factor. Dementia has been shown to be somewhat preventable, with manipulations in diet and exercise mitigating disease risk. These 15 foods for example, could reduce your susceptibility to the illness.

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