A study has found that an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be confirmed with peanut butter.
A small pilot study, published in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences, has found that a diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease can be confirmed with a ruler and a dollop of peanut butter.
The ability to smell is associated with the first cranial nerve and is often one of the first things to be affected by cognitive decline. Jennifer Stamps, the graduate student who first conceived of the study, said she came up with the idea when she was shadowing doctors at Dr Heilman’s clinic. She noticed that potential Alzheimer’s patients were not tested for their sense of smell. When she discussed her idea to test patients’ sense of smell, Dr Heilman replied, “If you can come up with something quick and inexpensive, we can do it.”
Peanut butter was chosen for the study as it is a ‘pure odorant’, which is only detected by the olfactory nerve, also known as a person’s sense of smell.
The study was undertaken in Dr Heilman’s clinic. Patients who came into the clinic for standard Alzheimer’s testing were also asked to sit the ‘peanut butter test’. To perform the peanut butter test a clinician has about one tablespoon of peanut butter in a container. Patients were asked to sit down, close their eyes and mouth and block one nostril. The clinician would then hold a metric ruler beside the patient’s nose, facing outward. The container of peanut butter would be opened and the clinician would move the container one centimetre closer to the patient’s nose every time the patient exhaled. By doing this the clinician was able to determine at what distance the patient could detect the peanut butter through smell. The results were recorded and the patient was asked to do the same with the other nostril after a short delay. The clinicians running the test did not know the patient’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
The results showed that patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease had dramatically different abilities of smell between their left and right nostrils. The left nostril was impaired in those with Alzheimer’s - the peanut butter had to be, on average, 10 centimetres closer to the patient’s face for the left nostril to detect it compared to when testing the patient’s right nostril.
Using a person’s sense of smell is a cheap, easy and non-invasive way to test for cognitive impairment. This study is important as it may allow for Alzheimer’s tests to be conducted in areas without access to expensive equipment. It is also one more way to confirm a notoriously difficult diagnosis.
What do you think? Is there genius in the simplicity of this test? Or has medicine taken a step backwards if we are resorting to sandwich spreads as diagnostic tools?
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