A fading sense of smell may signal onset of Parkinson's disease

December 11, 2008,

Many individuals with Parkinson's disease are able to recall losing their sense of smell well before the onset of more commonly recognized symptoms such as tremors, impaired dexterity, speech problems, memory loss and decreased cognitive ability. To determine if a fading sense of smell may signal Parkinson's, researchers at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine are participating in a national study to examine the correlation and ascertain whether smell loss presents a tool for early detection of the disease and an opportunity to delay or ultimately prevent more troublesome symptoms.

Nearly one million people in the United States are affected by Parkinson's disease, which stems from premature aging of dopamine-producing cells in the brain, and the number is likely to grow as the population ages. By the time Parkinson's disease is detected, most individuals have already experienced a 60 to 70 percent loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain.

"Very little is known about the early stages of this disease," says Tanya Simuni, MD, director of Northwestern's Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center and Associate Professor of Neurology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "By utilizing smell testing in conjunction with other tests, we hope to develop a system that identifies the presence of Parkinson's before it develops into problematic symptoms."

Northwestern is one of 15 sites nationwide and the only center in Illinois to participate in the Parkinson's Associated Risk Study (PARS), the largest long-term study in the United States of relatives of individuals with Parkinson's disease. Evaluating 7,500 relatives for three to five years, the study draws from research demonstrating that first-degree family members such as mothers, fathers, siblings or children have a slight increase in their risk to develop the disease. As age has been recognized as the single proven risk factor for the onset of Parkinson's symptoms, the study will monitor relatives 50 years or older.

PARS study participants will be sent a scratch-and-sniff test accompanied by a brief questionnaire to be completed at home, with possible follow-up through continued questionnaires or evaluation by a local neurologist. Participants may also be contacted for more extensive testing.

"This study presents an enormous opportunity to not only better understand the initial stages of Parkinson's, but also help future generations," says Dr. Simuni. "In the future, early detection combined with neuroprotective therapy may pave the way for interventions that slow the progression or even prevent the onset of Parkinson's disease."

Source: Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Explore further: Mechanism behind common Parkinson's mutation discovered

Related Stories

Mechanism behind common Parkinson's mutation discovered

February 5, 2018
Northwestern Medicine investigators have discovered how a gene mutation results in buildup of a toxic compound known to cause Parkinson's disease symptoms, defining for the first time the mechanism underlying that aspect ...

High-intensity exercise delays Parkinson's progression

December 11, 2017
High-intensity exercise three times a week is safe for individuals with early-stage Parkinson's disease and decreases worsening of motor symptoms, according to a new phase 2, multi-site trial led by Northwestern Medicine ...

New imaging test gives physicians better tool to diagnose Parkinson's disease

August 25, 2011
Thanks to a new diagnostic imaging technique, physicians now have an objective test to evaluate patients for parkinsonian syndromes, such as Parkinson's disease. Northwestern Memorial Hospital is among the first institutions ...

Novel technique explains herbicide's link to Parkinson's disease

October 23, 2017
Northwestern Medicine scientists have used an innovative gene editing technique to identify the genes that may lead to Parkinson's disease after exposure to paraquat, a commonly-used herbicide.

New gene shown to cause Parkinson's disease

June 6, 2016
Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered a new cause of Parkinson's disease—mutations in a gene called TMEM230. This appears to be the third gene definitively linked to confirmed cases of the common movement disorder.

Brain rewiring in Parkinson's disease may contribute to abnormal movement

September 14, 2017
The brain's own mechanisms for dealing with the loss of dopamine neurons in Parkinson's disease may be a source of the disorder's abnormal movement, according to a Northwestern Medicine study published in Neuron.

Recommended for you

Past encounters with the flu shape vaccine response

February 20, 2018
New research on why the influenza vaccine was only modestly effective in recent years shows that immune history with the flu influences a person's response to the vaccine.

Building better tiny kidneys to test drugs and help people avoid dialysis

February 16, 2018
A free online kidney atlas built by USC researchers empowers stem cell scientists everywhere to generate more human-like tiny kidneys for testing new drugs and creating renal replacement therapies.

Expanding Hepatitis C testing to all adults is cost-effective and improves outcomes

February 16, 2018
According to a new study, screening all adults for hepatitis C (HCV) is a cost-effective way to improve clinical outcomes of HCV and identify more infected people compared to current recommendations. Using a simulation model, ...

Study suggests expanded range for emerging tick-borne disease

February 16, 2018
Human cases of Borrelia miyamotoi, a tick-borne infection with some similarities to Lyme disease, were discovered in the eastern United States less than a decade ago. Now new research led by the Yale School of Public Health ...

Flu shot only 36 percent effective, making bad year worse (Update)

February 15, 2018
The flu vaccine is doing a poor job protecting older Americans and others against the bug that's causing most illnesses.

IFN-mediated immunity to influenza A virus infection influenced by RIPK3 protein

February 15, 2018
Each year, influenza kills half a million people globally with the elderly and very young most often the victims. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 37 children have died in the United States ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.