Blue Brain

The big D word can be scary. DEMENTIA. Dementia is an umbrella term that covers many different diseases and conditions, which impact the way the brain functions. There are many different types of dementias – some professionals estimate that 80-90 different types exist. The most commonly known type of dementia is Alzheimer ’s disease. Researchers are working hard to look for tools that help people live better lives with dementias, and ultimately for cures. For many, the earlier dementia is detected, the better. More planning, education and support can occur to help someone’s journey with dementia be less difficult. It can take time to diagnose someone living with dementia. Some research studies have reported that an individual may live with cognitive decline for 3-5 years before it is formally diagnosed.

There are some causes of memory impairment which may be reversible. When evaluating for dementia, a physician will work to rule out any treatable causes of memory impairment. Medical examinations, neuropsychological assessments, cognitive tests, brain scans, and blood tests may be used to help physicians diagnose dementias. These exams take time, and can be expensive. Currently, signs of Alzheimer’s disease can be detected with the use of a PET scan which involves introducing a radioactive drug into the body. The PET scan can show doctors if there are certain protein buildups in the brain, which has been an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease. PET Scans are costly, and Medicare doesn’t always cover it. Currently there is no definitive way to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, but neurologists and geriatricians are getting better at diagnosing it.

Today, at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference held in Toronto, two studies were presented which might help clinicians diagnose cognitive decline (changes in the brain which may eventually lead to dementia) earlier. Columbia University researchers noted that changes in someone’s sense of smell may be an early indicator of cognitive decline. The new studies suggest that the ability to identify scents like licorice, lemon, bubble gum, and skunk can be an indicator of changes in the brain, which may eventually become a form of dementia.

It is important to note that changes in sense of smell can be caused by many things. Dr. Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at the Alzheimer’s Society was quoted as saying:

“While less invasive tests for dementia would be incredibly useful, we need larger studies to test how reliably sense of smell can be used as an early predictor of memory decline and dementia . . . Most people experience some sensory loss as they age, so anyone with an impaired sense of smell shouldn’t be immediately worried about dementia, but if you have noticed changes to your sense of smell at any age, it’s advisable to speak to your GP [Physician]”.

The researchers involved in the studies also say that the smelling testing won’t be a stand alone test to diagnose dementias, but may help future researchers and physicians to be able to diagnose dementias earlier and in less costly ways. More detailed information on these studies and the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference can be found at: https://www.alz.org/aaic/pressroom.asp

If you or a loved one is currently living with dementia, it can be helpful to seek out support. The LifeCircles team is experienced in supporting individuals and their caregivers who live with dementia. Our number one goal is to help the person live in the community that they love, rather than move into a nursing facility. If you would like more information on the LifeCircles PACE program please contact our intake team: For Muskegon and Northern Ottawa Counties, please dial – 231-733-8655. For the greater Holland area and parts of Allegan County please call – 616-582-3114.