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Olfactory impairment is more marked in patients with mild dementia with Lewy bodies than those with mild Alzheimer disease
  1. S S Williams,
  2. J Williams,
  3. M Combrinck,
  4. S Christie,
  5. A D Smith,
  6. R McShane
  1. Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA), University of Oxford, Dementia Programme, Level 4, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, UK
  1. Dr R McShane, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health Foundation NHS Trust, Dementia Programme, Level 4, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford OX3 9DU, UK; rupert.mcshane{at}


Background: Dementia patients with anosmia are more likely to have Lewy body pathology at postmortem, but clinicopathological studies have only assessed olfaction in moderate dementia or an average of 5 years before death. It is not known whether, in patients with mild dementia (MMSE score over 20), olfactory function is more impaired in Alzheimer disease (AD) than dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB).

Methods: Patients with mild DLB (n = 21), mild AD (n = 27), mild cognitive impairment (MCI) (n = 21) and controls (n = 47) were assessed using a 16-item olfactory identification test and an olfactory threshold test which used sticks impregnated with differing concentrations of butanol.

Results: Patients with mild DLB had impaired olfactory identification ability compared with those with mild AD or MCI, independent of age, cognitive function and sex. The sensitivity of a cutoff score of seven correct responses out of 16 was 0.81 for distinguishing mild DLB from mild AD (AUC 0.682). The specificity, positive predictive value and negative predictive value for the same cut-off score were 0.41, 0.48 and 0.73, respectively. The olfactory threshold was not different in the AD and DLB groups.

Conclusions: Simple bedside tests of olfactory identification merit further examination for their potential to improve the identification of patients with DLB when used alongside existing criteria. They are insufficiently specific for use in screening.

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  • Funding: OPTIMA is grateful for long-term support from the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust. The Commonwealth Scholarship Commission supported SSW.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Ethics approval: Provided by Oxford Research Ethics Committee.

  • Patient consent: Obtained.