You’ve misplaced your car keys for the third time in two weeks. Or you start to tell your daughter a story and she stops you because you’ve already told it to her before… twice.
As you get older, minor incidents like these can have you wondering if they’re early signs of dementia. And if they’re starting to interfere with everyday life, or have you worried, go ahead and talk with your doctor about them.
Keep in mind, however, that fatigue, stress, vitamin deficiencies and even being over medicated can mimic dementia symptoms.
But recently scientists stumbled upon a new early sign of dementia. One that could appear long before the disease starts affecting your day-to-day activities.
And that could give doctors the time they need to head off some of the worst of your symptoms before they ever appear.
Strange scratch-and-sniff test reveals dementia risk
According to research done at McGill University in Canada, being unable to distinguish between strong scents could be a red flag for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.1
The researchers asked a group of older adults whose parents (or multiple siblings) had dementia to take a multiple choice scratch and sniff test. The volunteers had to identify a number of distinct and unrelated odors such as bubble gum, gasoline or lemon.
It turns out those folks who had the most trouble identifying the odors, also had more Alzheimer’s-related proteins in their cerebrospinal fluid when they were tested.
Now a new study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society has taken this smell test for dementia one step further. Researchers at the University of Chicago in Illinois identified five specific smells that could help identify if you’re at higher risk too.2
Pinpoint your dementia risk with these 5 scents
The long-term study included nearly 3,000 volunteers ranging in age from 57 to 85. The scientists asked each of them to smell felt-tipped sticks infused with certain strong scents. They then had to identify what the smell was from four different choices they were given.
The researchers arranged the scents in order from easiest to identify to hardest. And they found that those folks who couldn’t correctly identify four out of five of them were TWICE as likely to have dementia five years later.
The scents the scientists used were…
Sixty eight percent of the volunteers had no trouble correctly recognizing at least four out of five of the smells. But 14 percent got the right answer on just three out of five. Five percent were only able to name two of the smells. Two percent identified one odor correctly. And one percent of the folks couldn’t pick out any of them.
Five years later almost every single volunteer who couldn’t identify any of the scents had dementia. And 80 percent of those who were only able to identify one or two scents had received a dementia diagnosis too.
Experts say the area in our brain which is responsible for our sense of smell (olfactory bulb), and the area that helps us remember and identify odors (entorhinal cortex), are among the first areas in our brains affected by dementia.
In healthy people, the stem cells in these parts of our brains generate automatically. But scientists say the loss of smell is an early sign that your brain is losing some of its ability to repair itself.
4 healthy habits slash your dementia risk
If you’re worried about your own risk for Alzheimer’s experts say there are some everyday habits you can adopt to boost your brain health. And these habits may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s in the future.
1. Get a good night’s sleep:
Rest is essential for a healthy brain. When you’re in deep sleep, and your neurons are resting, your always efficient brain uses the down time to tidy up. It send a cleaning crew around to mop up all the junk that has built up during the day including the excess amyloid proteins linked to Alzheimer’s. So reducing your dementia risk can be as simple as getting a good night’s sleep.
2. Keep your blood sugar under control:
Diabetes raises your risk for dementia. When your blood sugar isn’t under control, your body is unable to use the excess glucose floating around. And that extra sugar sets off a domino-like effect. Damaging molecules are produced that trigger inflammation, restrict blood vessels, reduce blood flow and eventually leads to loss of cognitive function. But keeping your blood sugar in check can slash your dementia risk.
3. Move your body:
Exercise boosts blood flow all over your body. And that means more oxygen and nutrients flow to wherever you need them the most, including your brain. Plus experts say regular exercise can lower dementia risk. Exercise encourages more connections in your brain, helping keep your brain flexible and reducing brain shrink.
Aim for a mix of aerobic and weight-bearing exercise at least three days a week to keep your body and brain in peak shape. Are you having a hard time getting started? Click here for some nearly effortless ways to squeeze some exercise into your day.
4. Feed your brain:
Eating a healthy, lower carb diet filled with lots of organic produce, whole grains and grass-fed meats and dairy is good for your entire body, including your brain. But researchers say getting plenty of certain specific nutrients could help you build a barrier against dementia.
According to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, being low in vitamin D effects our ability to remember things and organize our thoughts. In fact, mental abilities may decline nearly three times faster than in folks with adequate levels. You can bump up your D levels with sunshine, diet and a vitamin D3 supplement.
Omega-3 fatty acids increase blood flow to areas of our brain that are responsible for memory and cognition. And older folks with plenty of omega-3s on board do better in fluid intelligence tests and have plumper frontoparietal cortices, an area of the brain that naturally shrinks as we age.
Wild-caught fatty fish such as mackerel and salmon are great for raising EPA and DHA omega-3 levels. Walnuts, flaxseed and chia seed are good sources of the plant-based omega-3 ALA. And fish oils supplements are available too.
And recent research confirms B vitamins can slow the rate of cognitive decline down to a crawl. In one placebo-controlled study folks over 70 getting a vitamin B complex supplement did 70 percent better on memory tests than those taking the placebo.
Commit to making these simple changes today to reduce your dementia risk in the future. And keep a close watch on your sense of smell to help catch a problem in its earliest stages.
1. “Odor identification as a biomarker of preclinical AD in older adults at risk,” Neurology July 25, 2017 vol. 89 no. 4 327-335
2. “Olfactory Dysfunction Predicts Subsequent Dementia in Older U.S. Adults,” J Am Geriatr Soc, 1532-5415