Alzheimer’s Disease is a condition characterized by thinking, memory and behavior problems. Common in individuals aged 65 and up, this most common type of dementia is still devoid of a cure. It is a progressive condition, meaning that it worsens as time goes by. As such, the best way to reduce the symptoms of this disorder – according to experts – is to diagnose it while it is still in the early stages.
There is no single exam that can pinpoint Alzheimer’s; instead, a series of tests are administered to determine if the patient suffers from this crippling condition. Diagnostic examinations usually include physical exams, neurological tests, mental status testing, blood exams and brain imaging scans. Unfortunately, this set of tests can take a huge toll on one’s well-being – as well as his wallet. Recognizing the need for a cheaper and more efficient diagnostic exam for Alzheimer’s are researchers from the University of Florida – the pioneers behind the ingenious assessment tool known to many as the “Peanut Butter Test.”
What is the Peanut Butter Test?
The Peanut Butter test is a breakthrough diagnostic tool developed by Jennifer Stamps, a graduate student from the University of Florida McKnight Brain Institute Center for Smell and Taste. The study, which was published in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences, involved the use of a metric ruler and 14 grams of peanut butter (approximately 1 tablespoon.) In the study, the clinicians were left unaware of the patient’s diagnosis.
In the research, the clinicians conducted the exam by asking the patient to close his eyes and mouth, leaving one nostril is blocked. They then place the peanut butter and the ruler next to the open nostril while the participant breathes normally. The clinicians then elevated the peanut butter nearer to the participant – one centimeter at a time – until the patient manages to smell the scent. The clinicians took note of the distance before the odor is smelled. The test is then repeated on the opposite nostril after a 90-second gap. According to the results, patients with Alzheimer’s disease showcased stark differences in odor detection for each nostril. Those afflicted with the condition showed impaired left nostrils, as they were not able to detect the scent until the peanut butter was placed about 10 centimeters away from the nostril. Those with other types of dementia, on the other hand, did not exhibit any odor-smelling impairment. Some, however, demonstrated some smelling difficulties with the right nostril.
Why ‘Peanut Butter?’
Stamps came up with the Peanut Butter test while working under the tutelage of Dr. Kenneth Heilman, professor of health psychology and neurology from the same university. She noticed that patients in Heilman’s office – those afflicted with Dementia – were not evaluated for their sense of smell. In cognitive decline (as that with Alzheimer’s), the first cranial nerve or the Olfactory nerve is usually one of the first to be affected. With this in mind, she decided to create a cheap and quick exam that explored such fault that is common in Alzheimer’s patients. So why peanut butter? Stamps chose this because of its nature as a “pure odorant,” meaning that it can only be detected by the olfactory nerve. Additionally, she decided to go with peanut butter since it is easily accessible as well.
Stamps sees much promise in her diagnostic tool. She believes that it can be used to confirm the disease, when used in conjunction with other tests. Currently, she is undertaking further studies to determine if the test can help predict patients who might be afflicted with Alzheimer’s in the future.