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How researchers are hoping to spot disease.

There are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK and this is set to rise to over one million by 2021, and while work is continuing to find a drug to help reverse or halt the condition, attempts have so far been unsuccessful.

With no obvious cure in sight scientists believe the key may well be in early detection. It was recently announced that the NHS is conducting trials of a five-minute iPad test to spot the early signs of dementia.

The test, which requires no medical supervision, uses artificial intelligence to assess brain function.

Participants are shown about 100 photographs and asked whether they contain an animal. The images appear for a split second.

Some of them clearly depict an animal, but others contain one that is less obvious, or no animal at all.

Possible abnormalities, signalled by differences in reaction speed and accuracy, can lead to a specialist referral long before the instances of memory loss that are the focus of tests now.

A study examining the iPad test said it maybe a more effective tool for detecting early signs of dementia than existing penand-paper assessments.

But another indication which could help with early detection is said to be in the sense of smell, and there is suggestion smell tests may become routine in doctors surgeries, helping identify older adults who are at greater risk of developing dementia.

The sense of smell is known to deteriorate with age, but researchers have previously found it might also indicate health problems and deteriorating health before it is recognised by doctors.

Dr Honglei Chen, from Michigan State University, US, said: "Poor sense of smell becomes more common as people age, and there's a link to a higher risk for death.

"Our study is the first to look at the potential reasons why it predicts a higher mortality."

Dr Chen's team analysed data from almost 2,300 men and women who took part in a major US investigation called the Aging's Health ABC Study.

Part of the study involved completing a smell test of 12 common odours. The participants, aged between 71 and 82, were then classified as having a good, moderate or poor sense of smell.

Compared with those having a good smell sense, people in the "poor" category were 46 per cent more likely to die after 10 years and 30 per cent after 13 years.

The association was almost unaffected by gender, race and lifestyle factors.

But to the surprise of the scientists, poor sense of smell even predicted earlier death in healthier participants.

The findings are published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

While poor sense of smell is an early sign of Parkinson's disease and dementia, and linked to weight loss, this only explained 28 per cent of the increased risk of death.

Robert Howard, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at University College London, said: "The study showed that the risk of dying in the next 10 years was increased by about a half in people with impaired sense of smell and that only some of this risk could be explained by the development of Parkinson's or Alzheimer's or by weight loss.

"Most of the increased mortality risk could not be explained by associations with specific illnesses such as cancer or cardiovascular disorders. This raises the interesting possibility that loss of smell may be a marker of generalised ageing and should be taken seriously by older people and their doctors."

"Smell tests could help doctors spot older adults who are at greater risk of developing dementia."
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Publication:Shropshire Star (Shropshire, England)
Date:May 13, 2019
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