I am sure we all have had those moments in life when we forget who we truly are but can you imagine having all your thoughts, memories, good and bad, wiped clean from your subconscious. Unable to remember anything about yourself, always dependent on others for help, and being unable to perform the most basic of tasks independently, surely that would be hell on earth. But these are the struggles of an Alzheimer’s patient on a day to day basis.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain. Recently, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), New York State Psychiatric Institute, and New York-Presbyterian reported that an odor identification test may prove useful in predicting cognitive decline and detecting early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

Two studies have been carried out which prove that the odor test is a cheap alternative to other tests. In one study, researchers administered UPSIT to 397 older adults (average age of 80 years) without dementia. Each participant also had an MRI scan to measure the thickness of the entorhinal cortex—the first area of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers found that low UPSIT (University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test) scores, but not entorhinal cortical thickness, were significantly associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

In another study, the researchers carried out UPSIT and performed either beta amyloid PET scanning or analysis of cerebrospinal fluid in 84 older adults (median age of 71 years). Of these, 58 participants had mild cognitive impairment. At follow-up, 67 percent of the participants had signs of memory decline. Participants with a score of less than 35 were more than three times as likely to have memory decline as those with higher UPSIT scores.

“Our research suggests that both UPSIT score and amyloid status predict memory decline,” said William Kreisl, a neurologist at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia. But as the amyloid status method is an expensive method surely UPSIT is a cheaper alternative. Other methods do exist but are too expensive and generally detect Alzheimer’s in the later stages when there is significant brain damage.