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."