"A loss of sense of smell does not mean you have Alzheimer's disease," said Heilman. "But if someone has episodic memory loss and also has a loss of smell, a degenerative disease like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's is a possibility."
Episodic memory loss is related to very recent memories, such as being able to recall what you had for dinner the night before, he explained.
Heilman estimates that about 12 percent of those with mild cognitive impairment (problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes) go on to develop Alzheimer's.
"We would love to know if the smell test would predict Alzheimer's," he said. "But we don't know how the test would work on a larger population."
For now, Heilman has a simple recommendation: "If you have a memory problem, see your doctor."
Learn more about Alzheimer's disease from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: Matthew Growdon, student, Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass.; Kenneth Heilman, M.D., James E. Rooks Jr. Distinguished Professor, department of neurology, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, Fla.; July 13, 2014, presentation, Alzheimer's Association International Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark
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