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

Female Support Worker Visits Senior Man At Home
Midnight Sun Home Care provides help in many forms for older adults with Parkinson’s disease.

You may not recognize her by name; however, you’ve very likely come across her story. Joy Milne has a tremendously unique talent: recognizing Parkinson’s disease through her nose. Her gift came to light when she noticed what she details as an “overpowering sort of nasty yeast smell” in her husband of 10 years. Subsequently observing other changes in her husband, for example, personality and mood shifts, he ultimately sought medical assistance, and received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s.

Subsequently, upon going in to a Parkinson’s support group meeting, that same odor permeated the room – although evidently only Joy was able to notice it. As a matter of fact, she was also able to pick up on different degrees of the smell – some whose scent was faint, while for others, it was more powerful. With both her own and her husband’s medical backgrounds (she a nurse and he a doctor), this finding was definitely meaningful and warranted more action.

Her story led her to help Tilo Kunath, a Parkinson’s disease specialist at the University of Edinburgh, with the aim of developing an instrument to provide earlier detection – and ultimately, treatment – of Parkinson’s.

Although at first skeptical of the chance for Parkinson’s being recognized through odor, he was open to further investigation after learning about the results dogs were having in picking up on the scent of cancer in patients. He then designed a method to assess her talents, by supplying her with a random assortment of t-shirts – fifty percent which had been worn by a patient clinically identified as having Parkinson’s, and 50% by patients without the disease – and, her accuracy rate was amazing. In fact, she missed the mark on just one of the shirts, worn by someone without Parkinson’s, but who actually was subsequently diagnosed with 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 while the idea is fascinating, there are still an assortment of questions to first address.

Parkinson’s disease, together with a number of other chronic health conditions, can be more successfully managed through the help of Midnight Sun Home Care, providers of companion care Anchorage, AK families trust. Call us at (907) 677-7890 for additional information.


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