Woman who can '˜sniff out' Parkinson's helps experts

Joy Milne with her husband Les, who suffered from Parkinsons before his death in 2015Joy Milne with her husband Les, who suffered from Parkinsons before his death in 2015
Joy Milne with her husband Les, who suffered from Parkinsons before his death in 2015
'¨A retired nurse who can detect Parkinson's disease using her extraordinary sense of smell is helping scientists to make research breakthroughs which could lead to the first diagnostic test.

Joy Milne from Perth, whose husband Les, a consultant anaesthetist, died in 2015 aged 65, noticed an unusual musky smell around a decade before he was diagnosed. She first stumbled across her unusual gift when Mr Milne started emitting a strange odour.

At first, Mrs Milne attributed the smell to bad hygiene on her husband’s part, but everything changed when the couple attended a Parkinson’s meeting.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She then realised that her husband smelt the same as the other people in the room and ten years later Mr Milne was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Mrs Milne said: “I smelled it ten to 12 years before Les was diagnosed.

“As the Parkinson’s got worse, the smell got worse.

“It became just part of him, but I with my sensitive sense of smell, I could smell it all the time and it became quite uncomfortable really, but I had the sense not to nag too much.”

According to Mrs Milne, Parkinson’s disease has a very thick, musky smell.

She added: “I’m in a tiny, tiny branch of the population, somewhere between a dog and a human.”

Tanith Muller, parliamentary and campaigns manager at Parkinson’s UK in Scotland, said: “This whole story started with Joy coming along to a ­Parkinson’s UK event.

“During a question and answer session, her claim to be able to smell Parkinson’s caught the attention of Parkinson’s UK – supported researcher Dr Tilo Kunath at the ­University of Edinburgh and he investigated further.

“Tilo’s initial findings – that Joy could indeed smell Parkinson’s – then led to Parkinson’s UK funding further research into whether Parkinson’s had its own aroma.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological condition, for which there currently is no cure.

The main symptoms of the condition are tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity.

Parkinson’s affects around 11,000 people in Scotland – which is around one in 500 of the population.

Dr Arthur Roach, director of research at Parkinson’s UK, said: “It’s very early days in the research, but if it’s proved there is a unique odour associated with Parkinson’s, particularly early on in the condition, it could have a huge impact.

“Not just on early diagnosis, but it would also make it a lot easier to identify people to test drugs that may have the potential to slow, or even stop Parkinson’s, something no current drug can achieve.”