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Nothing Says ‘I Don’t Have Dementia!’ Like the Smell of Old Fish

The good, the bad and the ugly things we learned about our bodies today

Of our five senses, smell is often cited as the most powerful — one estimate suggests that human olfactory organs can detect one trillion different scents. That sounds pretty impressive, especially in comparison to this woman who couldn’t tell the difference between a dog and a purse with her eyes.

With this in mind, when your nose starts to go, it can be a little disconcerting. But according to a new study out of the University of Chicago, if you can’t smell peppermint, fish, orange, rose and leather*, you’ve got an even bigger problem: You’re twice as likely to develop dementia as the next guy.

Now, if you’re running to the attic to give your old leather bomber jacket a quick sniff, the good news is your chances go down the more items you can smell. The bad news is, not by much. In the five-year study, subjects who couldn’t smell any of the five odors all had dementia already. For subjects who could smell only two out of the five, 80 percent were diagnosed with the disease.

Researchers believe that this study demonstrates that our sense of smell is closely linked to our overall health, particularly the health and functionality of our brains. In fact, when combined with other tests, such as those for vision and mobility, new screening measures for separating those who are high-risk for the disease from those who are low and medium-risk may be close to a reality.

So the next time you’re in the supermarket, give that salmon filet a good sniff — it just might save your life.

A few other things we learned about our bodies today: