Jeffrey Arden, Ph.D.

About 5.3 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, and this number is expected to triple to nearly 16 million by the year 2050 per the Alzheimer’s Association. Currently, there is no effective treatment or cure for the disease that is characterized primarily by eroding senses, cognition, and coordination, and ultimately death.

The loss of one’s sense of smell is known to be one of the earliest known impairments caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have found that by restoring a plaque-forming protein, a study utilizing research animals indicated that the sense of smell could be restored. The study led by a Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine researcher confirms that the protein called amyloid beta is the primary culprit. According to Daniel Wesson, Ph.D. “the evidence indicates we can use the sense of smell to determine if someone may get Alzheimer’s disease, and use changes in sense of smell to begin treatments, instead of waiting until someone has learning issues and problems remembering.” We know that the loss of smell can be caused by a number of ailments, exposures, and injuries, but since the 1970s, it has been identified as an early sign of a sign of Alzheimer’s.

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE - Psychology & Alzheimer's on the Brain

The new research shows how and where in the brain this happens, and that the impairment can be treated. Further, it is believed that understanding smell loss will hold some clues about how to slow down this disease. In this particular study, it was noted that early on, the part of the brain called the olfactory bulb, where odor information from the nose is processed, became hyperactive. Over time, however, the level of amyloid beta increased in the olfactory bulb, and it became less active or hypoactive. The research team tried something interesting. They sought to reverse the effects and injected the animals with a drug that clears amyloid beta from the brain. After two weeks on the drug, the animals could process smells normally. After then withdrawing the drug for one week, impairments then returned. This is only one of a number of exciting new experiments that show great hope for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.