Our human olfactory sense is a remarkable tool capable of detecting an astonishing array of distinct smells. Back in 1927, a study suggested that humans could distinguish around 10,000 different odors. However, a more recent study conducted in 2014 at Rockefeller University revealed that our olfactory abilities go even beyond that initial estimate, allowing us to discriminate countless more scents.
Interestingly, a diminished sense of smell may serve as an early indicator of Alzheimer's disease. Some clinics incorporate smell tests as part of their early detection methods, asking patients to identify various odors like bananas, smoke, cloves, or garlic. Struggling to identify these scents may prompt further testing, though it's crucial to note that a reduced sense of smell may be linked to other factors such as COVID-19, medications, or sinus infections. While a smell test alone is inconclusive evidence of Alzheimer's, it can provide a valuable indicator for additional examinations.
It's essential to recognize that although reduced olfactory function can be frustrating for those with Alzheimer's, it's not a blanket experience for everyone.
Our sense of smell, often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of daily life, holds significant importance as it connects us with time, place, emotions, and memories, whether good or bad. For individuals with Alzheimer's, a diminished sense of smell can add to their frustrations, but it's essential to understand that this sense is not universally lost—it depends on the individual.
The aroma of morning coffee or the fragrance of basil in a simmering pot of ragu can create powerful connections to happy moments, offering comfort and familiarity. Observing cues from our loved ones and understanding their comfort levels in various situations is crucial.
Amidst the ordinary aspects of daily life, including our ability to smell, there lies an unnoticed gift. Only in its absence, often realized too late, do we recognize the extraordinary nature of the seemingly mundane. So, take a moment to appreciate and embrace the daily details, savoring the richness of life, and cherishing the sensory experiences that connect us to our past and present.
Domenico Praticò, MD, holds the position of the Scott Richards North Star Charitable Foundation Chair for Alzheimer’s Research and serves as a Professor and the Director at the Alzheimer’s Center at Temple, as well as a Professor of Pharmacology at Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.