(NBC) An early indicator of Alzheimer's disease may be found in a simple scratch and sniff test.
"Licorice, pineapple, cheddar cheese, cherry..." Says 71-year-old Jane Todd who is participating in a Harvard study.
That study found changes in a person's sense of smell appear to be an early sign of cognitive impairment.
Jane does not have Alzheimer's, but like so many adults she wonders whether her minor lapses in memory are a normal part of aging, or something more.
"It's kind of like i'm not keeping as much at my finger tips." says Todd.
The eyes may also hold clues about Alzheimers. Another study found doctors can look at the retina and see build-up of beta amyloid. That's a marker of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
"it can be an early indicator an indicator that tells the eye doctor, for example, that a person should go on and get a more, a more distinct workup, neuropsychological testing, memory testing, mris, etc." says Dr. Maria Carrillo of the Alzheimer's Association.
The coup, however, would be to find a way to prevent Alzheimer's. A study of 12-hundred people at risk for dementia has found a group of lifestyle changes can reduce memory decline.
Participants who exercised, got nutrition counseling, managed their heart health, played brain games, even got out and socialized; all performed better on cognitive testing after two years than those who received regular doctor's advice.
"This is the first time we actually have a recipe, that we can say 'this recipe works.' you can try to follow this and you should be able to see some results." says Dr. Carrillo
The results of all of this new research were presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference, and are considered preliminary until additional studies can be done.