A fading sense of smell may signal onset of Parkinson's disease

Dec 11, 2008

Many individuals with Parkinson's disease are able to recall losing their sense of smell well before the onset of more commonly recognized symptoms such as tremors, impaired dexterity, speech problems, memory loss and decreased cognitive ability. To determine if a fading sense of smell may signal Parkinson's, researchers at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine are participating in a national study to examine the correlation and ascertain whether smell loss presents a tool for early detection of the disease and an opportunity to delay or ultimately prevent more troublesome symptoms.

Nearly one million people in the United States are affected by Parkinson's disease, which stems from premature aging of dopamine-producing cells in the brain, and the number is likely to grow as the population ages. By the time Parkinson's disease is detected, most individuals have already experienced a 60 to 70 percent loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain.

"Very little is known about the early stages of this disease," says Tanya Simuni, MD, director of Northwestern's Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center and Associate Professor of Neurology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "By utilizing smell testing in conjunction with other tests, we hope to develop a system that identifies the presence of Parkinson's before it develops into problematic symptoms."

Northwestern is one of 15 sites nationwide and the only center in Illinois to participate in the Parkinson's Associated Risk Study (PARS), the largest long-term study in the United States of relatives of individuals with Parkinson's disease. Evaluating 7,500 relatives for three to five years, the study draws from research demonstrating that first-degree family members such as mothers, fathers, siblings or children have a slight increase in their risk to develop the disease. As age has been recognized as the single proven risk factor for the onset of Parkinson's symptoms, the study will monitor relatives 50 years or older.

PARS study participants will be sent a scratch-and-sniff test accompanied by a brief questionnaire to be completed at home, with possible follow-up through continued questionnaires or evaluation by a local neurologist. Participants may also be contacted for more extensive testing.

"This study presents an enormous opportunity to not only better understand the initial stages of Parkinson's, but also help future generations," says Dr. Simuni. "In the future, early detection combined with neuroprotective therapy may pave the way for interventions that slow the progression or even prevent the onset of Parkinson's disease."

Source: Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Explore further: Routines most vital in avoiding Ebola infection: WHO

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Tissue in trouble calls in reinforcements to restore health

Jun 07, 2013

Northwestern University scientists are the first to discover a cellular process used by animals when a tissue is stressed and in molecular trouble from the expression of misfolded and damaged proteins: The tissue at risk ...

Not your conventional nucleic acids

Feb 15, 2013

Northwestern University's Chad A. Mirkin, a world-renowned leader in nanotechnology research and its application, has invented and developed a powerful material that could revolutionize biomedicine: spherical nucleic acids ...

Shining light on cells' inner workings

May 16, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Lanrong Bi and Nazmiye Yapici are shining new light on the hidden processes within cells. For their groundbreaking research, Bi, an assistant professor of chemistry at Michigan Technological ...

Tiny roundworm points to big promise

Jan 06, 2012

Two related studies from Northwestern University offer new strategies for tackling the challenges of preventing and treating diseases of protein folding, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases, amyotrophic ...

Recommended for you

Routines most vital in avoiding Ebola infection: WHO

4 minutes ago

Meticulously following stringent routines when putting on and removing protective equipment is more important than the kind of gear health care workers use to ward off Ebola infection, the World Health Organization said Friday.

A look at latest Ebola developments

1 hour ago

No African countries are on the United Nations list of contributors to fight Ebola. With few exceptions, African governments and institutions are offering only marginal support as the continent faces its ...

Liberia opens one of largest Ebola treatment centers

1 hour ago

Liberia's president opened one of the country's largest Ebola treatment centers in Monrovia on Friday, remembering the days when "the dying, the sick, the dead who could not picked up on time" as officials ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.