The Woman Who Can Smell Parkinson’s Is Changing the Way We Diagnosis It

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Early detection of Parkinson’s is a critical step in better treatment options.

You probably don’t recognize her by name, but you’ve very likely heard her story. Joy Milne has an extremely unique talent: uncovering Parkinson’s disease through her nose. Her gift came to light when she sensed what she explains as an “overpowering sort of nasty yeast smell” in her husband of 10 years. Subsequently identifying other changes in her husband, for example, personality and mood shifts, he finally went in for a medical appointment, and was given a diagnosis of Parkinson’s. 

Subsequently, upon joining a Parkinson’s support group meeting, that same odor permeated the room – even though apparently only Joy had the ability to recognize it. As a matter of fact, she was also able to recognize varied levels of the odor – some whose odor was weak, while for other individuals, it was more powerful. With both her own and her husband’s medical backgrounds (she a nurse and he a physician), this revelation was unmistakably significant and warranted more action.  

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

Although first doubtful of the possibility of Parkinson’s being uncovered through scent, he was open to further exploration after learning about the results dogs were having in picking up on the odor of cancer in patients. He then devised a means to assess her abilities, by giving her a random selection of t-shirts – 50% of which had been worn by a patient clinically diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and 50% by those without the disease – and her accuracy rate was amazing. In fact, she missed the mark on only one of the t-shirts, worn by someone without Parkinson’s, but who actually was later identified as having the condition as well.  

Kunath explains, “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, concluded that even though the idea is intriguing, there are a wide range of questions to first resolve. 

Parkinson’s disease, along with a number of other chronic health conditions, can be more successfully managed with the help of an in-home care provider like JFS CareEmail us or give us a call at (855) 455-2273 for additional information about professionally trained caregivers and our top-rated home and dementia care in Santa Monica, CA and the surrounding communities.