Study: Inability to smell peanut butter may be early sign of Alzheimer's

GAINESVILLE, Fla.(WCIV) - Being able to smell peanut butter may be a simple and cost-effectiveway to test for Alzheimer's.

Researchers at the University of Florida found that being able to smellpeanut butter was effective in confirming the diagnosis of early stageAlzheimer's disease. Graduate student Jennifer Stamps and her colleaguespublished the findings of the small study in the Journal of NeurologicalSciences.

Stamps said the idea came whenshe was shadowing Dr. Kenneth Heilman and noticed the patients were not beingtested of their sense of smell. The sense of smell, reports the University of Florida, has been associated withcognitive decline.

"Dr. Heilman said, 'If you cancome up with something quick and inexpensive, we can do it,'" Stamps said.

Stamps settled on peanutbutter.

The test was simple. Patientsclosed off one nostril and a clinician would move a canister of peanut butteralong a ruler one centimeter at a time until the patient could smell it.

Stamps found that patients inthe early stages of Alzheimer's had notable differences in smelling the peanutbutter between their nostrils. On average, the left nostril would not detectthe smell of the peanut butter until it was 10 centimeters closer than whensmell was detected in the right nostril.

Of the 24 tests done, 10 showeda left nostril impairment and 14 did not.

Researchers said they had toconduct more extensive studies to understand what the pilot study had revealed.

"At the moment, we can use thistest to confirm diagnosis," Stamps said. "But we plan to study patients withmild cognitive impairment to see if this test might be used to predict whichpatients are going to get Alzheimer's disease."

The research group said thepeanut butter test could be used in clinics that lack access to expensivetesting equipment, but would not serve as a replacement for techniques thatcould better target problems and treatments.