scent triggers memories

Scent Triggers Memories

Inspīr Senior Living Team

Scent has the power to generate emotions and memories from a single sniff. When it floats into the nose, it travels to the brain’s olfactory bulbs, where it is “read” by the brain and sent along to the amygdala, where emotions are processed. Then it proceeds to the hippocampus, where learning and memory formation take place. This all happens in a split second and immediately triggers a reaction within the person.

Many of the scents we smell trigger happier times and positive emotions, although some cause negative reactions. Journalist Lila Walton loves the scents of plants and perfumes, not just for triggering memories but also for connecting with nature. “I love the scent of fresh basil or rubbing my fingers on a scented geranium, sage, or rosemary. For me, it creates this snap back to nature, a calming and grounding effect. When I smell lavender, however, it triggers a different feeling altogether and brings me right back to the last days of my grandmother’s life when I was rubbing lavender-scented lotion on her skin. Some days, I like the smell; other times, I don’t.”

In The Harvard Gazette, Dawn Goldworm, an internationally recognized olfactive expert, said, “People do tend to lose their sense of smell as they age, she added. But not to worry. Your nose is like a muscle in the body that can be strengthened by giving it a daily workout, not with weights, but with sniffs.”

As you age, there are a number of factors that may reduce your sense of smell. Certain medications, along with chemotherapy, radiation, and cancer treatments, will alter smell, but many regain their sense of smell after treatments. The common cold, flu, allergies, polyps, and the coronavirus are all culprits in minimizing smell. Aging, in general, deteriorates smell, and smoking, respiratory infections, head trauma, and environmental toxins may additionally inhibit smell.

A recent article in The New York Times suggests physical therapy for your nose. Used much after being affected by the coronavirus, people are using “smell training,” which is “akin to physical therapy for your nose: tedious and repetitive. It involves sniffing several potent scents twice a day, sometimes for months, to stimulate and restore the olfactory system – or at the very least help it function better.” It’s possible to create your own smell training or smell therapy kit or buy one online.

Benefits for Dementia

Certain scents can help those living with dementia trigger childhood memories. Everything from baking apple pies to smelling the scent of your mother’s perfume can revive memories in a person living with dementia. What we consider flavor is actually smell, as the scent travels to the brain. Tasting that piece of fresh-baked pie will have the same effect as just smelling it.

Easing the symptoms of dementia, especially high anxiety and aggression, is particularly difficult, but scientists have found that certain scents can help. In a Medical Life Sciences article, “A study has found that essential oils, particularly lavender, bergamot, and lemon balm, can help calm the patient and suppress aggression, agitation, and other psychotic symptoms in patients with dementia.”

Inspīr Carnegie Hill offers opportunities to enhance smell for residents. The open-plan kitchens at 1802 restaurant and Onyx bistro, engaging experiences, indoor and outdoor garden and terrace spaces, and culinary experiences offer a wide choice of ways to keep our residents’ noses “working out” on a daily basis.

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