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A New Way To Detect Parkinson’s Disease Early

A person with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disease that causes problems with movement and speech, often has characteristic signs and symptoms. These include a tremor at rest, rigidity, unstable posture, slow movements, hesitant speech, and a mask-like facial expression. But these are late symptoms of the disease – and often don’t appear until the disease is more advanced. Are there ways to pick up early Parkinson’s disease – so that treatment is more effective?

Early Stages of Parkinson’s Disease: A Surprising Way to Detect This Disease

Surprisingly, testing a person’s sense of smell could lead to an earlier diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that people with early Parkinson’s disease have difficulty identifying specific odors.

People with early Parkinson’s disease have no problem smelling a lemon scent. In this study Parkinson’s patients were able to identify this scent better than a control group. On the other hand, they had more difficulty with other odors – including banana, coconut, cherry, dill pickle, turpentine, soap, and paint thinner.

Problems identifying certain odors can occur four or more years before the other characteristic symptoms of Parkinson’s disease appear such as movement problems, rigidity, and tremor. People suffering from early Parkinson’s disease have a selective inability to smell certain odors, which could be the key to identifying those in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

Why Do People with Early Parkinson’s Disease Have Problems Identifying Certain Odors?

People with Parkinson’s disease experience loss of nerve cells in specific areas of the brain, which accounts for many of their symptoms. One of the first places nerve cells die is in the olfactory area of the brain – the portion that detects odors. This can precede the appearance of other Parkinson’s disease symptoms by years, offering a way to identify early Parkinson’s disease – when it’s most treatable.

Scientists also believe a “sniff test” could be useful for detecting other early brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Using Odors to Detect Early Parkinson’s Disease: The Bottom Line?

The inability to identify certain smells could be an early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease or other brain disorders. The results need to be interpreted with caution since there’s a natural decline in the ability to smell as people age, and other conditions such as sinus infections and allergies can cause difficulty identifying odors. Still, a “sniff test” could be an inexpensive and useful way to screen for people in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Kristie


Science Daily. “Impaired Sense Of Smell May Be Early Indicator Of Parkinson’s Disease”

Movement Disorder Virtual University. “Parkinson’s Disease and the Sense of Smell”

This article is intended to convey general educational information and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.

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