Dementia is no laughing matter—and the sooner you can catch it, the better. Fortunately, two very surprising recent discoveries are showing how you may be able to sniff it out years in advance, giving us some new dementia early warning signs to add to our arsenal of prevention.
Everybody changes as they get older. You’ve surely become wiser, for example. But it’s important to know that some changes might actually be early signs of dementia…changes that you likely wouldn’t expect to be linked to this terrible disease. In fact, two new studies are providing some valuable insight into how you, and the people around you, might be able to predict dementia up to nine years in advance.
Early Dementia Sign #1: Change in Your Sense of Humor
Do you remember walking through the park, or perhaps just watching television with an older family member, and they burst out laughing at something completely inappropriate? Perhaps it’s something like a child falling down, a dog barking, or some bad news. Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t funny. Well, according to new research out of King’s College in London, changes in humor, typically towards darker, more inappropriate topics, are associated with an increased risk of a type of dementia called “frontotemporal dementia.”
This form of dementia is characterized by changes in behavior, rather than memory loss. But the research team also uncovered an association with Alzheimer’s disease. They noticed people with Alzheimer’s appeared to be more into slapstick humor—think “Naked Gun” movies—than satire or absurdist humor, which was more popular among healthy adults of the same age.
What makes people laugh, in my opinion, is largely subjective. But if you’ve noticed a significant change in your sense of humor—or someone close to you—it might be a sign you should start discussing dementia with your doctor. The data shows these changes occur up to nine years before other common dementia symptoms appear!
Early Dementia #2: Change in Your Sense of Smell
Your sense of humor might not be the only sense that signals dementia. I stumbled upon a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that suggests an individual’s sense of smell is associated with dementia. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic looked at how sense of smell—or lack thereof—related to dementia. They found people with a poor sense of smell were more likely to get dementia or Alzheimer’s than people who maintained a strong ability to pick up on identifiable odors.
Using a smell test, researchers noticed that the worse a person performed, the more likely they were to experience some form of dementia. The worst performances showed a strong link to Alzheimer’s in follow-ups.
Early Warning to Protect Against Dementia
Because these symptoms—humor and smell—present themselves years in advance of other symptoms by as much as 3.5 to nine years, they can be extremely helpful in the fight against cognitive decline. Early detection of dementia symptoms can help prevent or delay the onset of more debilitating future symptoms, so if you or someone you know has undergone these changes, I strongly recommend you explore them further with your family doctor.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Clark, C.N., et al., “Altered Sense of Humor in Dementia,” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2015; 24; 49(1):111-9. doi: 10.3233/JAD-150413.
Roberts, R., et al., “Association Between Olfactory Dysfunction and Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer Disease Dementia,” JAMA Neurology web site, November 16, 2015; http://archneur.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2469511.