Inexpensive 'Smell Test' Could Help Diagnose Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Diseases

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Diagnosing neurological illness is a lengthy, complex, and expensive process. But one surprising test might soon help to speed things up. A series of recent studies has found that checking patients' sense of smell could help identify Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

Doctors have known about the link between olfactory (smell-related) dysfunction and neurological diseases for a long time now. Their patients with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease often report losing some or all of their ability to smell.

Davangere Devanand is a neurology and psychiatry expert at Columbia University who has spent years investigating this poorly understood connection. In his latest paper on the subject, published last year in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Devanand found ample evidence to support doctors' and patients' stories. In many adults, he wrote, anosmia could be seen as a reliable predictor of Alzheimer's disease.

"It's important, not just because it's novel and interesting and simple but because the evidence is strong," Devanand told Scientific American. "In the past, most neurologists thought, 'Maybe there's something there statistically in a paper, but it's a bit flaky.'"

A paper published this month in the journal Lancet Neurology came to a similar conclusion, proposing a single, as-yet-undetermined root cause of anosmia in both illnesses.

Paper author Richard Doty is also the creator of the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT), which asks patients to scratch and sniff 40 different odors. The results are instantaneous, and at $26.95, it's a far cheaper starting point than brain scans.

Neurologist G. Webster Ross of the Veterans Affairs Pacific Islands Health Care System says the test can be a strong negative predictor of neurological issues as well. "If a person scores very well on a smell identification test, then you can be pretty sure they're not going to have Parkinson's, at least within the next four years," he told Scientific American.

It's important to keep in mind that neurological disease is far from the only condition associated with anosmia. Our sense of smell naturally begins to grow duller as we age, and the most common cause of temporary or permanent anosmia is none other than the common cold. So if you can't smell your favorite perfume today, don't panic just yet.

[h/t Scientific American]

Turn Your LEGO Bricks Into a Drone With the Flybrix Drone Kit

Flyxbrix/FatBrain
Flyxbrix/FatBrain

Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.

What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?

The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.

Experiment with your own designs.

The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.

For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.

Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?

Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.

Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.

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The Right Way to Clean Your Face Mask

Properly cleaning your face mask is important to keep it free of infectious material.
Properly cleaning your face mask is important to keep it free of infectious material.
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In an effort to slow the transmission of coronavirus in public settings, health officials are advising that people unable to practice social distancing wear a cloth face mask. While not as effective at filtering respiratory droplets as medical-grade masks, cloth masks are still recommended as a practical preventative step.

Like all apparel, masks get dirty. They absorb sweat and germs, and they need to be cleaned. But how?

According to National Geographic, the best way to clean a cloth face mask is to take the same approach as the rest of your laundry—toss it in the washer. Laundry detergent is effective against coronavirus because the pathogen is encased in a layer of oily lipids and proteins. Detergents and hand soaps contain surfactants, which reduce the surface tension of the fatty layer. The surfactant molecule is attracted to oil and grease on one end and water on the other. The end that disrupts the oil bursts the coronavirus envelope apart. Tiny pods of surfactant called micelles trap and wash the remnants away. It’s this activity, not the water temperature, that kills the virus, though using a higher dryer temperature can destroy most microorganisms that might be lingering.

Bear in mind there’s a recommended way to take off your mask. Make sure your hands are clean, then pull it off using the straps behind your ears. This avoids contaminating the mask—and your face—with any pathogens that might be on your hands.

Medical-grade masks are trickier, as they’re intended to be used only once and can’t stand up to a wash cycle. If you have an N95 or paper mask, you can set it aside for several days, at which point the virus is likely to become inactive. But keep in mind that health officials still aren’t entirely sure how long coronavirus can persist on surfaces, and it’s possible for a mask to collect particles over time, increasing the viral load.

But what about the rest of your clothes? Experts say not to worry so much about disrobing the minute you get home. The coronavirus likes moisture and dries out quickly on fabrics. You need to be careful with the material covering your face, but the rest of your outfit can wait until your regularly scheduled laundry appointment.

[h/t National Geographic]