Would you ever think that Alzheimer’s disease and one’s sense of smell could be related? According to Medical XPress, researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand are currently studying whether addressing the olfactory system could prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease or other similar conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease. Find their research published in Frontiers in Neuroscience.
The Olfactory System
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines the olfactory system as:
the bodily structures that serve the sense of smell. The system consists of the nose and the nasal cavities, which in their upper parts support the olfactory mucous membrane for the perception of smell and in their lower parts act as respiratory passages.
Thus, the olfactory system plays a role in smell, respiration, memory, and even navigation. Prior research has shown that the olfactory system can even help with recovery and consciousness following brain injuries. However, in many cases of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, the olfactory system malfunctions.
Researchers questioned whether they could develop a wearable device designed to prompt olfactory stimulation; as a result, it would prevent the development of conditions like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. If successful, researchers also hope that this type of wearable device could reverse disease progression.
Olfactory stimulation has been achieved through the past by stimulating the nasal bones or vagus nerve. However, these processes were often invasive and sometimes difficult to achieve. A wearable option would offer the opportunity to provide the same level of stimulation but in an easier and more effective way.
The wearable device, developed by University of Otago researchers, is a headset of sorts. Worn daily, the product would gently stimulate the olfactory system through tiny electronic pulses. Although much development still needs to be completed, researchers are partnering with Soterix Medical to develop a working wearable product.
Currently, researchers are not entirely sure what causes Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. However, many believe that a combination of genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices prompt disease progression. Risk factors include family history, past head trauma, poor sleeping and exercise patterns, and being over 65 years old. Females are affected more often than males. Alzheimer’s disease causes brain cells to degenerate and die, causing memory loss and other difficulties. Additional symptoms include:
- Changes in behavior and personality
- Dehydration and malnutrition
- Poor thinking or reasoning skills
- Inability to make judgments or decisions
- Difficulty completing familiar, everyday tasks
- Frequent infections
Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease here.