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Many elderly people have trouble identifying familiar smells. New research suggests that such problems may be an early sign of Alzheimer's disease.
Dr. Robert Wilson and his co-workers at Rush University Medical Center (Chicago, IL) studied a group of people from retirement centers and senior housing facilities. Each of these people was given the "Brief Smell Identification Test." The researchers were given permission to examine the brains of these people after they died.
The brains of 77 people (average age, 87.5 years) were studied. People who had more difficulty identifying odors had more signs of Alzheimer's disease in their brain. Specifically, the density of neurofibrillary tangles in the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus increased as the number of correct smell identifications went down.
A problem identifying smells does NOT mean that someone has Alzheimer's disease. However, testing a person's ability to smell may help diagnose Alzheimer's disease, especially in the early stages of the disorder.
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