Smell Test

It is spring, turning into summer very quickly. Trees full of twigs only a short time ago have transformed themselves into masses of full foliage. All sorts of flowers are blossoming, changing the landscape of the garden. Among those varieties of flowers, we have a few bushes of lilac in our backyard. Lilacs are particularly fragrant, sending out a bouquet of smells in all directions.

Sometimes when my partner opens the door to the backyard, she smells lilac even without going outside. On the other hand, when I go to the backyard, I don’t actually smell anything! I have to walk up to the bush and put my nose right against the flowers before I can smell their fragrance.

This reminds me of a few articles I have come across that talk about the use of a smell test to diagnose people who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. According to this article, scents are perceived by olfactory nerves, which are cells in the nose that are a direct extension of the brain. What’s really interesting and alarming for those of us with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is that “The olfactory system has self-generating stem cells and the researchers suggest that perhaps loss of sense of smell is an early sign that the brain is losing its ability to self-repair.

So, you can test yourself by simply comparing your ability to smell with that of other people who seem to have a good sense of smell, like my partner. Or, you could do the peanut butter test described in this video. This video also gives an excellent explanation of the connection between the inability to smell and the beginning of dementia.

So, if you did the test and found out that you have a problem like myself, what do you do? Unfortunately, as everybody knows, there is no magic cure. So until a miracle cure is developed, all we can do is try to improve our general health, particularly cardiovascular health. Also, keep trying to consume foods that are known to be good sources of anti-oxidants that can help slow down the deterioration of brain. In addition, I recommend trying some of the approaches described in the Coping Strategies section, as I have been doing.

By Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator – Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustratorFile:Head_olfactory_nerve.jpg, CC BY 2.5,

In the meantime, one of the most important things we can do is try to reduce the amount of time we might dwell on the difficulties we are experiencing. This can be particularly hard in the midst of the unprecedented social challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with our difficulties in coping with MCI, combined with these extraordinary external events. But if you succumb to these negative feelings, the result can be depression, which would make your condition even worse. Instead, we need to continue living bravely and enjoying life as best as we can. Again, living with MCI is not a guarantee that you will develop Alzheimer’s disease in your future – it is only one possibility. We have the power to influence our own futures. We need to keep doing our best by trying as many things as we can.

In the meantime, you should go out and smell the roses, and of course lilacs, even if you have to put your nose right up against them!

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