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Smells like Yesterday: Scent and Memory

Nothing quite brings you back to summers with grandma like the smell of freshly baked cookies. Here at Summerfield, fond memories are everywhere in the scrapbooks we craft and the stories we tell. But memories are more than the photographs we frame and the cookies recipes we post on our fridge—memory is most powerful when triggered by scent, whether we realize it or not. Recent research ties the sense of smell with links to deep memory recall that supersedes even Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and opening up cognitive possibilities for healing and comfort.

History of the Mystery

While modern research is exploring the novel implications, olfactory cognitive recall is not as new an idea as the concept may seem. The ‘Proust Effect’ was a term coined from the recorded experiences of French author Marcel Proust. Proust was writing when he smelled Madeleine cakes baking, and from there wrote hundreds of pages of childhood memories prompted by the nostalgic scent. Using that recorded instance as a springboard for cognitive theory, researchers have since hypothesized and linked the brain’s olfactory stimuli with long-term memory recall, later proven with concrete studies in anatomy and physiology.

Memory Loss and Research

In basic terms, the amygdala is responsible for sensory input, and the hippocampus is responsible for memory storage. Their close location explains their close relations in function. So when baking cookies, often individuals have shared experiences with their grandmother’s recipe triggered by the familiar scent. Scientists have tested mice with cognitive disruptions similar to patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. They have found that when presented with scents they have been previously exposed to, they still recall and interact differently than with scents they have been newly presented with. The same applies to humans, and further studies are being made on how to manipulate that for rehabilitation treatment. Sniff tests have been developed to diagnose Alzheimer’s early on, though fine tuning is still in the works for mass-produced diagnostics.

Comfort and Joy

Recent tests with mice showed that their experience with scent recognition had a rejuvenating effect on the brain. This has suggested possible treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) using scent as a type of cognitive therapy to rewire the brain. It’s the equivalent of hitting a refresh button and refreshing the webpage, only for the brain, and the button is scent. Aroma therapies with incense, diffused oils, and candles have been practiced by Eastern medicine tied with yoga and meditation, and have been encouraged of centuries by herbalists to promote well-being and achieve holistic balance.

Common Scents

Here at Summerfield, scent dispensers are diffused in the corridors, promoting positive links with what the residents are experiencing as they use their sense of smell, even without realizing it. Research in Japanese labs have proven results of lessening anxiety and promoting brain recognition with certain scents. Using this principle as a baseline, the diffused scents engender wellness, memory recall, and a sense of home all in one.

For you and your loved one you have made memories with, we at Summerfield provide the leading care for independent senior housing and assisted living in Utah county. We love the memories we have made with our residents, and are proud to say we provide care that is second to none.