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Researchers study links between smell disorders and dementia

October 12, 2017
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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Researchers at the Rockefeller University are studying how a defective sense of smell could be a predictor of a wide variety of health conditions from anxiety and depression to dementia. The study is one of several recent explorations into why people who have a limited or dysfunctional sense of smell often have neurological problems as well.

“People have their vision and hearing tested throughout their lives, but smell testing is exceedingly rare,” says neuroscientist Leslie Vosshall, PhD, one of the neuroscientists involved in the research, in a university press release about the clinical trials.

The study is the latest attempt to develop more accurate olfactory tests that might be used to detect early stages of neurodegeneration. Existing smell tests rely on the identification of individual odors that could depend on prior experience or cultural awareness, the researchers say. For example, people who have never eaten a mango may be able to smell it but not identify it.

Vosshall and her colleagues are developing new testing methods that combines different odors into a new compound smell. The new tests, Vosshall says, “focus on the problem of smell itself, because they don’t force people to match smells to words.”

Related article: Faulty sense of smell can be indicator of dementia

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