Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that affects motor movements. The disease develops over a long period of time, with symptoms developing very slowly. It normally occurs in those over age 60, affecting about one percent of those people. The primary symptom is a slow shaking in the hand when the hand is at rest. The shaking typically disappears during movement. Parkinson’s disease begins to show in one hand and eventually affects both hands as the disease progresses.
Other symptoms include slow movement, due to breakdowns in the brain’s ability to plan and initiate movement. This eventually leads to the inability of Parkinson’s sufferers to bathe, feed, and dress themselves. Further symptoms as the disease progresses include rigidity due to excessive muscular contractions, and eventually instability of movement, causing falls that can lead to bone breaks or fractures.
The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, but it is assumed to result from a mix of genetic and environmental factors. Those with a history of caffeine consumption and tobacco use are generally less likely to develop Parkinson’s.
Now researchers believe that they can predict the risk of Parkinson’s up to 10 years before the disease is clinically diagnosed. All it takes is a simple sniff test. Older adults who perform poorly on sniff tests have more than five times the risk of developing Parkinson’s compared to those who have a better sense of smell. Notably, the researchers found that the smell test did not provide statistically significant results in detecting the developments of Parkinson’s disease in women or in black people.
While not everyone who experiences a deteriorating sense of smell will develop Parkinson’s, the fact that in some populations it can serve as an indicator of future risk can help spur further study of the disease’s causes as well as develop diagnostic tests that can help identify the disease and begin treatment before it worsens.