Healthy Living

Dogs Being Trained to Sniff Out the Early Signs of Parkinson's Disease

Dogs Being Trained to Sniff Out the Early Signs of Parkinson's Disease

More often than not, those with Parkinson's are diagnosed when the disease is in its most advanced stages. The excessive amount of muscle twitches and tremors may lead to an increase in clumsiness, causing patients to trip and fall. Because the symptoms can be written off easily as general clumsiness or fatigue, many patients do not realize they have the disease until it has progressed significantly. But what if there were a way to detect the disease before it strikes?

The added time that could be gained from early detection would undoubtedly allow for better therapies and treatment protocols to be put into place so that patients are better able to prepare and cope with the disease.

Over the past few years, there have been programs to train dogs to sniff out the disease, sometimes before it starts to show symptoms. Right now, they have an over ninety percent success rate.  Based on San Juan Island, Washington, the program is an offshoot of a study conducted at the University of Edinburgh, where a woman, Jody Milne, was able to detect her husband's Parkinson's before he had even been diagnosed.

Researchers found that Mrs. Milne was able to detect what she referred to as an oily odor around the neck and back of a shirt, and was better able to detect it when the shirt was made of 100% cotton. Milne also detected the disease in six members of a twelve member group of participants where six had varying degrees of Parkinson's, with the additional six being the control group. She also detected the scent on the shirt of one member of the control group that was diagnosed with the disease eight months later.

Currently, the human body’s skin secretions are made up of over nine thousand molecules, making it difficult for researchers to pinpoint the particular odor that Milne refers to as the Parkinson's scent. The program creators in the US thought if a human can detect Parkinson's with that degree of accuracy, then a dog, whose olfactory senses are forty times that of a human's, would be able to do so with even greater accuracy and much sooner. 

The dogs that are being trained to sniff out Parkinson's, along with their handlers, are dogs that have already been trained to sniff out other substances. In conjunction with various medical facilities, a pilot program has been launched and has now gone from a small endeavor to one that is gaining community traction.

Read on to learn more about this program that is training dogs to sniff out Parkinson's disease.