So far just one small pilot study, but what an amazing finding! Jennifer Stamps and colleagues working with patients at the University of Florida’s Brain Institute have noted in Alzheimer’s patients a consistent defect in the sense of smell and describe an easy way to test for it. Their preliminary findings are reported here.
All you need are the subject and the helper, a tablespoon of peanut butter and a metric ruler. The seated subject, eyes closed, covers one nostril and breathes regularly in and out. The helper holds the peanut butter along the ruler – perhaps as far away from the open nostril as the subject’s elbow. As the subject breathes gently in and out, the helper advances the peanut butter during the exhale 1 centimeter at a time. The distance from nose at recognition of the scent is noted, and the test is repeated on the other side after a 90-second delay.
A significant difference, and – this part astounds me! – particularly an impairment in the left nostril’s sense of smell, sometimes up to 10 centimeters’ difference, was found in those with Alzheimer’s, but not in patients with other kinds of cognitive impairment. Alzheimer’s dementia is uniquely characterized by early brain degeneration in the portion of the brain linked to two faculties: the sense of smell and the ability to form new memories.
I clearly need some peanut butter in my office.