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Researchers Identify Unusual Early Signs of Dementia – Loss of Smell

Scientists have issued a warning about a lesser-known and unusual symptom of dementia that individuals can observe, particularly during activities like taking a shower or bath. Recognizing this symptom early on can facilitate an early diagnosis, which is crucial for the approximately 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK.

While more commonly known symptoms include confusion, memory loss, difficulty performing tasks, and mood changes, a less familiar indicator is a decline in the sense of smell. According to a study by the University of Chicago, a sharp decrease in a person’s sense of smell may be an early indicator of dementia. Memory plays a crucial role in our ability to recognize different scents.

Dementia encompasses over 200 progressive conditions affecting how brain cells function, with Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and mixed dementia being the most common types, as per Dementia UK.

Based on a longitudinal examination of 515 older adults, the study suggests the potential development of smell-test screening similar to vision and hearing tests. Noticing a significant loss of smell, such as being unable to detect familiar scents like shampoo or shower gel during personal care routines, could prompt individuals to seek medical advice.

Jayant M. Pinto, professor of surgery at the University of Chicago and senior author of the study, emphasized that a rapid decline in the sense of smell could indicate structural changes in specific brain regions associated with olfaction and memory. The study revealed that individuals with a rapid decline in the sense of smell exhibited smaller volumes and altered shapes of gray matter in these brain regions compared to those with less severe olfactory decline.

Dementia currently ranks as the seventh leading cause of death globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and represents a significant cause of disability and dependency among older individuals worldwide.

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