Smelling Flowers

Early detection of Alzheimer’s can help families make better and more informed choices for the future. Sarah Barnes for Express looks into the sense of smell or lack of smell,  as being a possible link to Alzheimer’s.

“The sense of smell, or olfaction, can be easy to overlook, no longer as essential to our daily lives as other senses.

But smell can be a fast-track to a person’s past, and losing the ability to pick up scents, which can be an early effect of diseases like Alzheimer’s, can mean losing emotions associated with the smell – with lifetime memories ultimately vanishing forever.

The Perfume Shop and Alzheimer’s Research UK have been working with University College London (UCL) expert Dr Jason Warren to discover how scent and memory are linked. “It has been widely reported that loss of the sense of smell can be an early sign of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” Dr Warren told us.

At UCL’s Dementia Research Centre, Dr. Warren is spearheading research into olfaction, memory and dementia. One element of his work harnesses pupilometry – technology that measures physiological brain responses to stimuli by monitoring pupil dilation. Dr. Warren has some early results revealing that significant smells in people’s lives, such as a favourite perfume, have a strong effect on memory centres in the brain, dilating the pupil markedly.

“Pupil dilation like this is of the kind we otherwise see with strong emotional arousal, as occurs in response to pain or loud noises, or indeed, romantic interest. Women in various cultures over the centuries have used compounds like belladonna to enhance their attractiveness and these also exploit pupil dilation,” he says. “We only have very preliminary results from this test, but together with mounting evidence in the field, we believe odours may be much better facilitators of memory and emotions than, for example, pictures and trigger quite different parts of the brain.”

With more research and a better understanding of the disease of Alzheimer’s and other related memory loss conditions, society will be able to someday find a cure.

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