Older adults sought for Smell Test Challenge

People without the disease needed for Parkinson's research

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) is calling on adults 60 and older in the U.S. and Canada who do not have Parkinson’s disease to participate in the Smell Test Challenge, which aims to better understand the connection between loss of smell and neurological disease.

To participate, adults need to go to the Smell Test Challenge website, and answer three yes/no questions to confirm their age, residence, and Parkinson’s status. They then can enter their address to be sent a free scratch-and-sniff test in the mail.

After taking the test, participants can enter their results online, which will be analyzed by MJFF scientific experts. Depending on their results, certain participants may be eligible to join an important brain health study. To ensure participant privacy, only de-identified data will be shared with the global research community.

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Last month, Susan Bogan, senior living consultant for the MJFF, visited two senior care centers in Texas — Legacy Midtown Park in Dallas and The Legacy Willow Bend in Plano — to talk about the Smell Test Challenge, its purpose, and how to participate.

“I was truly impressed with the Legacy communities,” Bogan said in a press release from Legacy Senior Communities, the parent company of the two centers. “As soon as I started talking about the research and the process, they lit up and responded with a ‘How can I help?’”

A diminished or absent sense of smell, referred to as hyposmia, is found in essentially every major neurological disorder, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

In Parkinson’s, loss of smell is often one of the earliest symptoms — appearing as much as a decade before the hallmark motor symptoms that support a formal Parkinson’s diagnosis, according to the MJFF. This is consistent with the presence of lesions in areas of the brain involved in smell early in the disease.

A common impairment

The foundation estimates that 96% of Parkinson’s patients have some form of smell impairment by the time they are diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease.

However, not everyone who has lost the sense of smell will develop brain disease.

And, further complicating matters, while about half of adults older than 60 are thought to have some form of hyposmia, roughly 70% of people with some degree of smell loss don’t even realize it until they are tested, according to the MJFF.

By collecting more data about smell loss in the general population of older adults, the Smell Test Challenge aims to help researchers learn more about this potential early risk factor of Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions.

This information may help to identify people at a higher risk of these neurodegenerative diseases, possibly allowing for early intervention that prevents or delays disease onset.

The challenge is part of the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), a large MJFF-sponsored international study following patients and healthy people over time to better understand the biological causes of Parkinson’s.