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Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 23:57 GMT 00:57 UK
Smell test to diagnose dementia
Elderly patient
An estimated 700,000 people in the UK have dementia
Asking patients to identify everyday smells can help to diagnose Alzheimer's disease, according to doctors.

Doctors in Worcestershire use a "smell test" to determine whether a patient has the brain disease.

They ask patients to "scratch and sniff" from a "smell book" and to identify the scent.

Previous research has established that Alzheimer's disease affects a person's ability to smell.

The "smell book" was developed by doctors at the University of Pennsylvania but was only recently introduced to the UK.

Dr Alison Gray, a consultant psychiatrist at Worcestershire Community Health Trust, is one of a few doctors in the UK using the book.

She said elderly patients with Alzheimer's took longer to identify many of the smells.

"They take longer to identify the smells, they often make mistakes and sometimes they cannot identify it."

Scratch and sniff

She said patients are asked to identify smells that they should be able to recognise.

"The book is, perhaps, a little American in that some of the smells are things like root beer, pizza and other things that maybe elderly Europeans may not be reasonably expected to know.

"But we use 'cross-cultural' smells like lemon and peppermint and other food smells.

"Patients 'scratch and sniff' a panel on the book and are given four choices. These could include things like chocolate, cheddar cheese, gasoline and leather. They are asked to identify the smell."

Alzheimer's patients take longer to identify smells

Dr Alison Gray, Worcestershire

Dr Gray suggested that the "smell test" could be used in future to diagnose people with a risk of developing Alzheimer's.

"The test could have long-term relevance in that we now have some treatments that seem to be useful in slowing down the damage to the brain.

"If we could use this test to identify people who may develop the disease we could tackle it at its earliest stages."

Dr Gray will present details of the test to doctors at the annual meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

"I will suggest that this is an area we need to look further at. We need to replicate it on a larger scale."

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