Groundbreaking smell test could diagnose Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s years before symptoms start

A NEW groundbreaking smell test could diagnose Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s years before symptoms surface, scientists have claimed.

The cheap “scratch and sniff” tests cost as little as £2 and can identify conditions such as a complete loss of smell (anosmia) – which is also common in Covid-19 infections.

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The new tests could help identify cases of Parkinson’s[/caption]

Many people who develop Parkinson’s can experience symptoms such as a loss of smell years before they are finally diagnosed and before other more obvious symptoms surface.

The new tests could help spot the disease in people at an earlier stage.

The tests have been used for years to identify these conditions and had previously cost £20 per person, meaning mass rollout of the tests would be costly.

The most common scratch and sniff test hails from the University of Pennsylvania and some patients have previously claimed that the potent smell that comes from the card can be altered depending on how hard it is scratched.

Dr Ahmed Ismail of Queen Mary University of London, has developed a new tool which can present half a dozen different smells.

Writing about his findings in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, he said that the new tests contain a droplet of pungent aromatic oil.

This capsule, Dr Ismail’s team explains, is then placed into two strips of tape and the test can be activated by crushing the capsule and pulling the pieces of tape to release the odour.

Dr Ismail said: “We know people with Parkinson’s may experience changes in their sense of smell, and that these changes can occur very early — often long before more recognisable movement problems emerge. 

“Scratch and sniff-style tests that assess the sense of smell are already being used in research studies but they are not yet ready to use in clinical practice.

“Developing new approaches to assess changes in a person’s ability to smell is an exciting route towards tools that could be used to detect Parkinson’s in the future.”

What is Parkinson’s

PARKINSON'S disease is a condition where parts of the brain become progressively damaged over many years.

It’s thought that approximately one in 500 people are affected by Parkinson’s disease.

Most people who start to develop symptoms are over 50.

Men have a slightly higher risk of getting Parkinson’s than women.

According to the NHS, symptoms can include:

  • involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body (tremors)
  • slow movement
  • stiff and inflexible muscles
  • depression and anxiety
  • balance problems
  • loss of sense of smell
  • problems sleeping
  • memory problems

The three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body, slow movement and stiff and inflexible muscles.

People with the condition can also experience a wide range of physical and mental problems including a loss of smell, problems sleeping and anxiety.

The new capsules include smells such as onion, menthol and cherry and have already been tested on a small group of Parkinson’s patients.

The group said they preferred the new capsule tests to the previous scratch and sniff cards.

Claire Bale, head of research at Parkinson’s UK said that it’s vitally important that tests are developed to help diagnose the condition soon and more accurately.

She said: “Currently, getting a diagnosis can take time, and some people may be misdiagnosed at first. This period of uncertainty can be extremely stressful and frustrating, and delays people access to vital treatment and support to manage their Parkinson’s symptoms.

“We know people with Parkinson’s may experience changes in their sense of smell, and that these changes can occur very early —often long before more recognisable movement problems emerge. Scratch and sniff-style tests that assess the sense of smell are already being used in research studies but they are not yet ready to use in clinical practice.

“Developing new approaches to assess changes in a person’s ability to smell is an exciting route towards tools that could be used to detect Parkinson’s in the future.”

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