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Smell and Dementia

There’s nothing like the smell of fresh laundry or the air after a good cleansing rain. Realtors recommend baking cookies before a potential buyer visits the seller’s home; thereby giving the house a homey feel. The list could go on, as those smells take us back in time or give us comfort. But what does it mean for those that can no longer smell?

The olfactory system, being one of the oldest sensory systems, is the first to be affected with the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s. US researchers have created a list of scents used to help make the determination. These smells include cheese, clove, fruit punch, leather, lemon, lilac, lime, menthol, orange, pineapple, smoke and strawberry. If an individual cannot recognize three of the ten given, then they are five times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

But what about people who have had a bad sense of smell all of their lives or have lost the ability to smell in their 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s; ages too young to be given an Alzheimer’s diagnosis? Medical science’s term for this inability, called hyposmia, can be associated with zinc deficiencies (if a cold or sinus infection has been ruled out), smoking, elevated blood alcohol levels or misuse of some cold remedy nasal sprays.

Recommendations include eating more zinc rich foods (lentils, oysters, pecans and sunflower seeds), taking a multivitamin with at least 7 mg. of zinc, exercise, decreasing mucus inducing foods (ice cream, milk and cheese) and increasing moisture either with a humidifier or a saline spray.

Other common causes of smell disorders are:

  • Sinus and other upper respiratory infections
  • Polyps in the nasal cavities
  • Frontal head injuries
  • Hormonal disturbances
  • Dental problems
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as insecticides and solvents
  • Numerous medications, including some common antibiotics and antihistamines.

Then there are the people who are born without a sense of smell. Many are missing their olfactory bulb which is the most crucial part of brain’s olfactory system. These people are diagnosed with ICA or isolate congenital ansomia. According to Ilona Croy of the Smell and Taste Clinic at the University of Dresden Medical School in Germany, people with ICA can still taste but not in the same way that can be distinguished when one is able to smell.

If you have experienced a sudden loss of smell, please visit with your physician to help determine whether it’s a simple cold or an indicator of something more serious. Our modern medical science can help nip it in the “bulb” and hopefully when you “stop to smell the roses” you’ll really be able to smell them.