The connection between scents and memories is a familiar one for most of us; we catch a whiff of the very aftershave our father used to wear or the smell of fresh-baked cookies, and we are instantly transported back to a time long since passed. Around the holidays, this correlation can increase as we are surrounded by traditional foods and family-centered habits.
A recent study by the University of Chicago Medical Center found that adults ages 57 – 85 who cannot identify common odors are at an increased risk of dementia. Despite this, many people with dementia still retain some sense of smell, and scent remains one of the most emotional and memory-stimulating senses. Targeting the olfactory senses with familiar and soothing scents can have positive impacts in dementia care today.
On her blog post “The Power of Smell in Dementia Care,” scent expert Linda Harman discusses the significance of the sense of smell. According to Harman, “The sense of smell is the most immediate and emotional of the senses; rooted in the parts of the brain responsible for memory and emotion.”
Harman is the co-founder of ReminiScent, a UK-based company that manufactures sensory products for dementia care.
“The relevance of sensory therapy, and particularly the use of the sense of smell, to relationship-centered care is that the act of sharing a scent experience automatically engages people in a joint activity. This, in itself, helps people to stay engaged with family members and carers, and thus feel happier,” Harman said.
The relationship-centered care that Harman speaks of is also known as person-centered care, and is exactly the kind of care that Cross Creek at Lee’s Summit offers its residents. At Cross Creek at Lee’s Summit, aromatherapy and the use of certain familiar scents and essential oils plays an important role in recreation therapy programming.
In addition to helping spark conversations about memories, which is extremely beneficial to those in the early stages of dementia, certain scents can soothe agitation in those in the later stages of dementia. Essential oils like lavender, bergamot and peppermint can reduce anxiety and balance out moods in individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. These oils can be added to baths, inhaled or used in massage oil – Cross Creek’s Recreation Therapist Mary Beth likes to add essential oils to calming hand and arm massages.
Sensory stimulation is important for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Shared smiles, laughter and understanding can come from joining in an activity that stimulates the five senses with a dementia patient, and that is why we have the Five Senses Series. Read our first post in the series, The Healing Power of Touch, here. Stay tuned for the next post in the series, Do You Hear What I Hear? – The Five Senses Series Part Three.