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How Smell Might Help Detect Parkinson’s

By Mary-Frances Walsh, 9:00 am on

As a trusted provider of senior care in Sonoma County, we make it a priority to share relevant news and information with families and caregivers in the area. And recently, we read an interesting article about how scent could be changing the way Parkinson’s is diagnosed.

New research has shown that the human nose is capable of detecting 1 trillion odors, but there are relatively few people who can detect subtle changes in body odor. One of these “super-smellers” in a Scottish woman named Joy Milne. Her observation that Parkinson’s patients have a distinct smell is inspiring researchers to investigate whether or not scent signatures can be used for earlier diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Pinpointing the Source

Scientists working with Milne were surprised when she said the musky odor she’d noticed emanated from the shirt collars of male Parkinson’s patients, rather than from the armpits. Some researchers believe the odor can be traced to the body’s sebaceous glands, which are located on the face and back. These glands emit a substance called sebum. Researchers have long associated changes in sebum production with Parkinson’s but are just beginning to connect the scent produced with the disease.

Understanding Scent Signatures

While the sebum-scent correlation is promising, there are thousands of different molecules on the skin that could be responsible for the so-called Parkinson’s scent. Potential causes include the characteristic protein clumps found in the brains of Parkinson’s patients, which also appear on the skin. Bacteria attracted to the unique molecular structure of the skin of people with the disease are a possibility as well.

Early-Detection Tools

With several studies underway, the hope is that medical professionals will soon have new tools like skin swabs, biosensors, or even detection dogs at their disposal that allow for an earlier diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Catching the disease early on also offers opportunities to find treatments that can slow or stop its progression. Thanks to the sensitive nose of Ms. Milne, whose husband passed from the disease, it may soon be possible to detect Parkinson’s by analyzing a person’s signature scent.

If Parkinson’s makes it more challenging for your loved one to complete everyday activities, like bathing, cooking, or exercising, turn to Home Care Assistance. We provide comprehensive Parkinson’s care, as well as Sonoma County dementia care, Alzheimer’s care, and stroke care. Speak with a dedicated Care Manager by calling (707) 843.4368 and request a free in-home consultation.