For many people, part of the difficulty of dealing with memory loss is that it often comes on gradually. Like the old adage of the frog in slowly boiling water, the slow onset can actually make it difficult for people to register the dramatic changes in their thinking. That is until the changes begin to disrupt everyday life. Then, people scramble to figure out what’s next.
Effective memory loss treatment hinges on early diagnosis. The question is: how do we identify those at risk for memory loss and dementia before the symptoms reach a tipping point?
Luckily researchers have pinpointed an avenue for early detection—your sense of smell. People with a sudden decrease in their ability to smell odors are at high risk of memory loss. In fact, a diminished sense of smell is a reliable predictor of memory loss. Olfactory decline is one way to detect memory loss.
The bridge between smell and memory
We often don’t think of smell as a vital sense. We tend to focus more on sight and hearing because they enable us to communicate. But olfaction, or our sense of smell, is the only sense with a direct connection to the memory centers of the brain.
You’ve probably experienced this connection. Have you ever smelled a particular scent and been completely transported to some forgotten memory? That’s no fluke.
Smell and memory are strongly linked because of the structure of the brain. The olfactory bulb, the part of your brain that processes smells, is directly connected to the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain. When a smell triggers a vivid memory, you experience this connection at work.
Olfactory decline predicts memory loss
Studies show that anosmia, or the loss of your sense of smell, predicts memory loss and dementia. People with sudden smell loss are at much higher risk for cognitive decline.
In fact, losing your sense of smell can actually predict changes in the memory centers of the brain. One study showed that people with rapid olfactory decline had smaller gray matter in certain areas of their brain related to memory. If your sense of smell is compromised, even with a chronically stuffy nose, odds are memory loss will follow.
The benefit of an early indicator
Predicting memory loss before it happens empowers people to be proactive. You can seek medical attention, make a treatment plan, and make decisions about the future of your care. An early indicator can also make medical treatment more effective. Many existing treatments can only slow down memory loss, but cannot help people regain what has been lost. So an early start is imperative.
Trying to manage memory loss can be somewhat of a Catch-22. Compromised thinking makes it difficult for people to problem solve and follow through on treatment plans. At a certain point, people don’t know what they don’t know. Relying on patients to recognize and monitor their own memory loss is a losing strategy.
A reliable predictor of memory loss makes decision making more manageable for people and their loved ones. The question whether or not you can smell is less emotional than whether you can remember something.
A new breakthrough in preventing memory loss
The knowledge that a lost sense of smell predicts memory loss is promising, but doesn’t mean all that much on its own. The good news is: researchers have leveraged the connection between smell and memory to find an effective treatment—olfactory stimulation.
Studies show that olfactory stimulation, or smelling a variety of odors every day, improves cognitive function and increases Cognitive Reserve. In some ways the nose is like a muscle; it requires exercise. As you exercise your sense of smell, not only do you improve your ability to smell a wider range of scents, you also strengthen the connection between your olfactory bulb and your hippocampus. In turn, your memory improves.
In light of this news, some people have begun olfactory enrichment. Olfactory enrichment requires participants to adhere to a strict regimen. Each day you smell a set of scents. You do this task twice every day. Though it sounds easy in practice, people have trouble doing it consistently. Without consistency, you don’t get results.
The main question now is how do we get people to consistently put the time into olfactory training? Because the reality is, even though people know olfactory enrichment is good for them, they often don’t continue to do it over the long term.
The next breakthrough will be technology that provides the benefits of olfactory training without requiring the time commitment and rigidity of doing a task multiple times per day for years on end.
Introducing the Memory Air Device: Amidst these challenges, we’ve created a groundbreaking solution – the Memory Air device. This innovative device taps into the remarkable connection between smell and memory. By releasing carefully formulated scents during sleep, it triggers specific neural pathways associated with memory enhancement. Learn more at www.memoryair.com.