9 Surprising Risk Factors Associated with Alzheimer’s Disease
Plus a weird test to diagnose Alzheimer's
In a new study published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, scientists have found 9 surprising risk factors that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. What are they? Read on to find out.
The risk factors are:
- 1. Obesity
- 2. Carotid artery narrowing
- 3. Low educational attainment
- 4. Depression
- 5. High blood pressure
- 6. Frailty
- 7. Smoking habits
- 8. High levels of amino acid homocysteine
- 9. Type 2 diabetes
While the study was purely observational, the researchers believe their findings could help the medical community prescribe specific lifestyle changes that could assist patients in avoiding a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
The disease, which is a form of dementia, affects one in 14 people over age 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. There is currently no documented treatment, although anecdotal evidence suggests coconut oil may be effective.
For the research, researchers analyzed more than 300 studies to identify the most common risk factors for the disease. They not only found these 9 risk factors for Alzheimer’s, they also uncovered evidence suggesting that some of the treatments for high blood pressure, hormones and vitamins, may also help decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Can the Peanut Butter Smell Test Signal Alzheimer’s?
It was also announced this week that another group of scientists believe they have found a simple and inexpensive way to diagnose Alzheimer’s.
The disease is most notable for its impact on patients’ memory, cognition, and language. But since the 1980’s, researchers have been studying the way Alzheimer’s affects the olfactory system. Jennifer Stamps, a neuroscientist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and colleagues found that by placing a glob of peanut butter on one end of a ruler and holding the other end to a patient’s nose, they could figure out if there was a problem with theolfactory system. 
Stamps first blindfolds the patient and holds one of their nostrils closed. Then, she holds up a ruler beside the patient’s open nostril and places an open sample of peanut butter on the bottom of the ruler, twelve inches from the patient’s nose. She then slowly raises the sample until the patient detects the odor and measures the distance between the peanut butter and the patient’s nostril. The test is then repeated with the other nostril.
Differences between the left and right nostrils’ sensitivity are normal, but a large difference may be an early indication of Alzheimer’s. Stamps found during a 2013 stud that 18 patients who likely had Alzheimer’s disease couldn’t smell peanut butter out of their left nostrils until the samples were only two inches away from their faces, about five inches closer than samples under their right noses. 
“The sensitivity is 100 percent in the early Alzheimer’s group,” said Stamps. The peanut butter test also might help correct false diagnoses of Alzheimer’s. “We get a lot of patients in our practice that are told they have Alzheimer’s, and a lot of times they don’t, she said.”
Stamps said that despite the lack of a treatment, an early diagnosis could help patients live fuller lives.
“I think it would be something that you could easily do in a geriatric practice that might make you look harder at their lab work”, said Stamps, and hasten the treatment of Alzheimer’s symptoms. “The sooner you slow down the progression, the better.”
 Inside Science
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.