It may sound surprising to some, but researchers state that peanut butter and a ruler may help diagnose patients for early stage Alzheimer’s Disease. Researchers from the University of Florida have reported the findings at the Journal for Neurological Sciences. It may sound weird, but it’s true.
Jennifer Stamps, a graduate student in the University of Florida McKnight Brain Institute Center for Smell and Taste, came up with the idea of using peanut butter to test for smell sensitivity while working with Dr. Kenneth Heilman, who is a the James E. Rooks distinguished professor of neurology and health psychology in the UF College of Medicine’s department of neurology. Stamps noticed that patients were not tested for their sense of smell while shadowing at Dr. Heilman’s clinic. The sense of smell is often one of the first senses to be affected by cognitive decline. In order to develop a simple and available means to test for the sense of smell, Stamps thought of peanut butter as it is a pure odorant that is only detected by the olfactory nerve and is readily available.
In the small pilot study, patients coming into the clinic for testing also were subjected to a clinician with 14 grams of peanut butter, about a tablespoonful, and a ruler. The patient is made to close his eyes and mouth and block one nostril. The clinician then opens the peanut butter container and held the metric ruler next to the open nostril as the patient breathes normally. The clinician then moves the peanut butter container one centimeter at a time when the patient exhales. The container is moved closer until the patient reports of detecting the odor. The distance is then recorded and the procedure repeated with the other nostril.
Additionally, the clinicians did not know the patients diagnoses. This was only confirmed weeks after the initial tests were made. The researchers found out that patients diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease also exhibited a dramatic difference in detecting odor between the left and the right nostril. The left nostril was usually impaired and did not detect the smell until it was 10 cm closer to the nose than what the right nostril was able to detect. The same differences were not found in patients who were diagnosed with dementia.
Of the 24 patients tested so far with mild cognitive impairment that usually leads to Alzheimer’s disease but can also lead to something else, 10 patients showed left nostril impairment while the other 14 did not. The researchers indicated that further studies may be needed in order to understand the implications behind such instances. But the researchers believe that the test can be used in clinics with no access to equipment and personnel to run other more elaborate tests to determine a specific diagnosis.