Alzheimer’s and dementia have been around for years, but we’re still lacking effective ways to treat them, and no cure has been found. However, early diagnosis seems to have an effect on how well treatment works and how long good quality of life can be maintained, making any sort of early screening we can do for these diseases vital.
So how do we catch dementia early? There are a few different types of tests, none of which is entirely definitive, but the latest of them might surprise you.
Although the study, which was completed by researchers at the Monell Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and collaborating institutions, is still in the “proof-of-concept stage” and will need to undergo more study before it is declared effective in humans, doctors of the future may make note of this odor signature to identify specific biomarkers that may help diagnose the disease.
It may seem weird and gross, but it could also help diagnose early onset Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias long before symptoms ever appear. This tool also promises to be non-invasive—a big bonus for patients—and there’s some hope that doctors will be able to use technology to assess the biomarkers in the urine rather than actually having to use their olfactory abilities.
The change in odor was noted as a “relative shift of the concentrations of existing urinary compounds” rather than an addition of new compounds.
Perhaps this new knowledge will also lead scientists down new paths in search of treatments and a cure for dementia. Study author Dr. Bruce Kimball, of the US Department of Agriculture and the Monell Chemical Senses Center, says:
“Now we have evidence that urinary odor signatures can be altered by changes in the brain characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. This finding may also have implications for other neurologic diseases.”
Could urine odor tests be the definitive Alzheimer’s and dementia screening we’ve been waiting for? We’re guessing not. But the addition of another biomarker for doctors to look for in potential dementia patients could increase the accuracy of diagnosis techniques, and that’s definitely a step in the right direction.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?