Recent research has linked impaired senses to Dementia, especially the sense of smell. Does this mean if you have lost your sense of smell you have Dementia? Probably not, however, it can be an early sign. Patients participated in a study where they underwent hearing tests (with no hearing aids), vision tests with contrast (eyeglasses were permitted), vibration testing in the big toe, and were asked to identify a variety of distinctive odors; paint thinner, lemons, onions, etc. to assess their sense of smell. The study included approximately 1,800 patients and showed that mild levels of multisensory impairment can be associated with accelerated cognitive aging. Over the following six years, 18% of the participants with multisensory impairment were diagnosed with Dementia.
The loss of senses is thought to be closely related to the development of Dementia as sensory nerves are located in the region of the brain that is most commonly affected by the disease process. The sense of smell was the most strongly associated sensory function identified as increasing the risk of Dementia.
Some food for thought; there are non-invasive exams that physicians and/or team members can conduct an annual basis to capture and evaluate any change in senses in the past year. These changes may be key in identifying the early signs of memory impairment and can assist the resident in setting up their daily tasks to maintain as much independence as possible as the disease progresses.
Dementia or no Dementia, it is important to support your residents, staff, and families through these changes and remember this really is a team approach, so pull together and continue to support each other!