Can training one’s sense of smell also improve thinking and memory in older adults at risk of developing dementia?
Alex Bahar-Fuchs, Ph.D.
University of Melbourne
An impaired sense of smell (olfaction) is common in older individuals, although often they may not be aware of it. Researchers have shown that disruption of sensory systems, such as smell may occur early in Alzheimer’s.
Studies have shown that the sense of smell may improve in young adults and cognitively unimpaired older adults following a process called olfactory (smell) training. Olfactory training may also benefit other areas, such as thinking and memory, in cognitively unimpaired individuals. However, it is unknown whether olfactory training provides the same benefits to older individuals at risk for dementia (i.e., individuals experiencing both memory decline and reduced sense of smell).
Dr. Alex Bahar-Fuchs and his colleagues will study whether olfactory training may be able to improve the sense of smell in older adults with memory decline and whether such training may help improves thinking and memory more broadly.
The researchers will conduct a pilot study with 50 individuals in Adelaide and Melbourne, Australia, over the age of 65 who have some difficulties smelling and may have subjective cognitive decline (means self-reported memory problems) or have Mild Cognitive Impairment or MCI (a state of subtle memory loss that may precede Alzheimer’s). The participants will undergo a program of daily smell training or of daily visual memory training. At the end of the intervention, and at follow-up after the intervention, Dr. Bahar-Fuchs and his team will collect objective and subjective measures of smelling ability, cognition, and well-being from the two groups and compare the results.
This study may provide an understanding of the usefulness of different types of cognitive training for people at risk of developing dementia. If successful, the results may shed light on the types of training most likely to have broad cognitive benefits and may impact interventions aimed at preventing dementia.
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