May 19, 2020

Female Support Worker Visits Senior Man At Home

One woman’s sense of smell could change the way Parkinson’s disease is diagnosed.

You might not recognize her by name; however, you’ve possibly heard her story. Joy Milne has a very specialized talent: detecting Parkinson’s disease through her sense of smell. Her talent to smell Parkinson’s was discovered when she noticed what she explains as an “overpowering sort of nasty yeast smell” in her husband of 10 years. Subsequently noticing other differences in her husband, in particular mood and personality changes, he eventually went to the doctor for medical help, and was given a diagnosis of Parkinson’s.

Later, upon walking into a Parkinson’s support group meeting, that same smell permeated the room – even though evidently only Joy had the ability to detect it. As a matter of fact, she was even able to pick up on varying levels of the odor – some whose scent was weak, while for other individuals, it was much stronger. With both her own and her husband’s medical backgrounds (she a nurse and he a doctor), this finding was definitely important and warranted more action.

Her story led her to help Tilo Kunath, a Parkinson’s disease researcher at the University of Edinburgh, with the aim of creating a tool to provide earlier detection – and eventually, treatment – of Parkinson’s.

Although initially skeptical of the probability of Parkinson’s being recognized through odor, he was open to additional investigation after finding out about the success dogs were having in picking up on the odor of cancer in individuals. Next, he devised a method to assess her skills, by giving her with a random group of t-shirts – 50% which had been worn by a person clinically determined to have Parkinson’s, and fifty percent by those without the disease – and, her accuracy rate was astounding. As a matter of fact, she missed the mark on only one of the shirts, worn by someone without Parkinson’s, but who in fact was subsequently diagnosed with the condition as well.

Kunath says, “Imagine a society where you could detect such a devastating condition before it’s causing problems and then prevent the problems from even occurring.” Dr. Thomas Hummel of the Technical University of Dresden’s Smell & Taste Clinic, adds that while the idea is fascinating, there are several questions to first sort out.

Parkinson’s disease, together with a variety of other chronic health issues, can be more effectively managed with the assistance of a home healthcare provider like Continuum. Contact us at (314) 863-9912 or (636) 861-3336 for additional information or to learn more about senior help at home St. Louis and the surrounding communities deserve.