3. Smell the Peanut Butter
What it detects: Alzheimer's disease
How it works: Alzheimer's typically affects your sense of smell because the area of the brain that processes odors, the olfactory cortex, is the first to show signs of dysfunction. (Memory problems come later.) That's why Jennifer Stamps, a researcher at the University of Florida, developed the peanut butter test, the results of which were recently published in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences. Normal aging can affect your sense of smell, but peanut butter isn't an odor usually lost with time, Stamps says, making it a good tool for evaluating early Alzheimer's. In the study, researchers measured the distance at which participants could smell peanut butter through the left nostril compared with the right. Those with early Alzheimer's could not detect the smell until it was an average of almost 5 inches closer to the left nostril compared with the right.
What to do: It's hard to perform the test by yourself, so grab a partner. Close your eyes and ask your partner to hold a small jar of peanut butter 12 inches away from your left nostril while you hold your right nostril closed. Slowly move the jar closer until you're able to detect the smell. Now test your right nostril. You should be able to smell the peanut butter equally well in both nostrils. If you can't, see your doctor to rule out treatable conditions that affect smell.
4. Sit Down, Stand Up
What it detects: Early risk of death
How it works: A 2012 study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology asked adults ages 51 through 80 to do a sit-and-stand test to see how well they could sit on the floor and then stand up. Participants could get a maximum score of 10; researchers subtracted one point each time a hand, forearm or knee was used for support. Scoring just one point higher was associated with a 21 percent lower mortality, says study coauthor Jonathan Myers. "This is a strong measure of muscle strength, coordination, balance and flexibility, which are critically important to maintain with age, as they allow you to perform daily activities and also prevent falls, which can be devastating for older adults," he says.
What to do: Test yourself by sitting on the floor, legs crossed, then rising back up (you can use your arms for balance, but you shouldn't have to use them or your knees to boost yourself back up). If you have problems standing up without assistance, such as difficulty standing up from the dinner table, or notice issues with everyday activities, this may be a wake-up call to start or ramp up your exercise program. Begin with 30 minutes of daily moderate physical activity, like walking. If you're already a walker, add some strength or flexibility training.
Next page: Detecting likelihood of future disability. »