"We caught it early."

“We caught it early.”

That’s the phrase every patient wants to hear when their doctor informs them of a disease diagnosis – especially when the disease is capable of robbing patients of their mental faculties for years and even decades.

Watching the brain

In conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), early detection almost always plays a key role in the outcome of treatment. That’s why a new technique that provides doctors with a relatively simple way to detect early AD may turn out to be an important diagnostic tool.

Researchers from three universities in the Northeastern U.S. recently reported on the results of a trial that tested an electroencephalogram (EEG) procedure in more than 70 subjects – some with AD and some without. Their EEG examination clearly demonstrated that the brains of Alzheimer’s patients react differently than the brains of healthy subjects when given a series of auditory stimuli. The accuracy rate of the EEG test was more than 80 percent overall.

This new method of detecting Alzheimer’s can be performed in a doctor’s office and may eventually be conducted with a hand-held device – a big advantage over the most common AD diagnosis technique, which tends to be expensive, time-consuming, and requires access to special research hospitals.

But until the EEG method receives further research and development, there’s another simple way that patients and doctors can be tipped off that the earliest signs of dementia may signal the beginnings of Alzheimer’s.

The sniff that fails

Scientists have known for some years that the ability to identify aromas is diminished in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Exactly why this is so may never be known. But no matter, because researchers at Columbia University conducted a trial that may be an important step in turning this phenomenon into an important diagnostic tool.

The Columbia researchers recruited more than 200 subjects who were asked to identify 40 different scratch-&-sniff aromas. About three quarters of the subjects had been diagnosed with mild memory impairment. The others served as control subjects. After being tested, the memory-impaired patients were followed for an average of five years to track the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

When the Columbia team analyzed their completed data alongside the results of other Alzheimer’s/aroma trials, the researchers narrowed the 40 aromas to a list of ten that were shown to be the most accurate in determining AD risk:

  • Clove
  • Leather
  • Lemon
  • Lilac
  • Menthol
  • Natural gas
  • Pineapple
  • Smoke
  • Soap
  • Strawberry

Remarkably, the Columbia test had a greater degree of accuracy in predicting AD than other tests that used genetic testing or brain imaging.

When clove smells like soap what then?

The Columbia team notes that more testing will need to be done before the reliability of an aroma test can be trusted. But in the meantime, if you or someone you know is unable to identify some of the aromas listed above, you can take that as an indication that it’s time to talk to your doctor about further testing.

And because the aroma test signifies the potential of an early stage of AD, that means there’s still time to take steps to address the problem. In tomorrow’s e-Alert I’ll tell you about two supplements that have been shown to inhibit the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.