A Whiff of the Future: Can Our Sense of Smell Predict Alzheimer’s Risk?

My mother always had the most amazing sense of smell. I mean she could tell you what was for dinner at the neighbor’s house! Well, that may not be entirely true, but it’s not far from it. She detected odors no human could to the point we used to tease her that she was a dog in another life.

So why wouldn’t I think it was odd when she suddenly lost that superpower?

I remember very distinctly one day while shopping she stuck her nose in a scented candle and complained that it only had a faint hint of aroma. Meanwhile, I could smell it halfway down the aisle. We laughed and I said her nose must be on lunch break.

Five years later she was diagnosed with dementia.

It’s those subtle signs we miss, and one reason why this newly released study out of the University of Chicago caught my attention.

According to researchers, anyone carrying the gene variant APOE e4 which is associated with the highest risk of Alzheimer’s may experience a decline in their sense of smell.


Researchers conducted at-home testing of the participants’ sense of smell over five-year intervals. Cognitive function and memory were assessed twice five years apart.

Those who carried the APOE e4 gene had a 37% decline in their sense of smell between the ages of 75-79 which continued to rapidly decline as they aged.

In addition, their thinking skills declined at a faster rate leading researchers to make the connection between the sense of smell and Alzheimer’s risk with the APOE e4 gene.

The findings open up new possibilities for early detection and intervention and of course, hope for better therapies.


You may remember actor Chris Hemsworth recently learned he had two copies of the APOE e4 gene through a DNA test.

23andMe can detect the gene but perhaps a more reliable way is with an at-home test through the Alzheimer’s Association.

The test is $125 and is not covered by insurance at this time.

It’s important to remember if you DO have the APOE e4 gene it doesn’t mean you WILL get Alzheimer’s, just that you have a very high probability. You should always talk with your health care provider about any positive test results and concerns.

Perhaps one of the best ways to become more aware of Alzheimer’s symptoms is by not overlooking the small changes we may see in our loved ones. I know I wish I didn’t.

You can read the complete study published in the medical journal Neurology.

4 responses to “ A Whiff of the Future: Can Our Sense of Smell Predict Alzheimer’s Risk?”

  1. This article is very interesting to me because my sense of smell is not as prominent as it used to be. The only reason I noticed is from the smell from my bathroom air scenter I use. I checked and it’s on high and I barely smell it anymore. I would love to take this test but scared to find out the results. Right now I’ve been dealing with my RA symptoms which seem to be getting worse. My mom had RA and Lupus and heart problems. My dad had heart problems (two strokes) and Parkinsons so I don’t know if I need another disease to worry about. Although, I probably should in case there’s something I could do to slow it down. Anyway, thanks for the info and I will seriously think about the test.

    1. Talking with your doctor may help you with your decision.

  2. Wow, very interesting. Thank you for sharing.

    1. You’re welcome!

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